It's all in a day's work for Shelby O'Neil.
plastic straw airline
Credit: Getty Images

When we first spotlighted Shelby O'Neil as our inaugural Change Maker, the 17-year-old had just finished spearheading a city-wide no-straw campaign in her Monterey, California hometown. Now, only a few months later, O'Neil's latest eco-efforts have convinced a major airline to nix single-use plastic straws altogether.

This week Alaska Airlines officially announced they will be discontinuing the use of non-recyclable plastic straws and picks when serving in-flight drinks, as well as in Alaska's airport lounges nationwide, in exchange for marine-safe alternatives, like bamboo. They'll be partnering with Lonely Whale, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to creating a "strawless ocean", to roll out the change.

O'Neil had initially reached out to the airlines in 2017 to encourage them to give up plastic straws for good, according to the carrier's blog. Alaska Airlines says they had already been considering making the sustainable switch. Last year alone, the airline used 22 million non-recyclable straws and citrus picks, according to their website. This eco-step forward would make Alaska Airlines the first in the U.S. to make the switch to a plastic-free substitute.

It isn't the airline's first sustainability effort either-nor will it be the last. In 2017, they replaced most of their bottled beer options with easily recyclable cans and this year, they'll be swapping out large aseptic juice boxes for canned alternatives making their in-flight drink service greener than ever.

Credit: Courtesy of Shelby O'Neil

As for O'Neil, this Girl Scout is thrilled with the change: "I applaud Alaska Airlines for being a changemaker. Convenience is killing Mother Earth. The time is now to take action for our planet." And her efforts towards a plastic-free planet aren't stopping here. Last year, she also inspired hospital system Dignity Health to discontinue the use of over 4 million single-use plastic straws and stirrers in their cafeterias.

Next month, with her founding organization, Junior Ocean Guardians, the teen says she'll continue to champion green causes by partaking in March for the Ocean, the first ever plastic-free march to be held on World Oceans Day, June 9. O'Neil is also currently working with Delta Airlines on their efforts to reduce their use of single-use plastics, confident that more companies may start to follow in the footsteps of Alaska Airlines. "I have hope that other corporate leaders will seriously look at their single-use plastic pollution," she tells us. "And put the health of all of earth's inhabitants first."


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