Two Santa Fe Women Who Don’t Suck

Written by Hallie Brennan, Upcycle Santa Fe | May 2018

It always seems impossible until its done.  Some wise words from Nelson Mandela encouraging the underdog to go ahead and take on Goliath.  Creating positive social change often feels like taking on Goliath.  Who are we kidding… creating positive social change always feels like taking on Goliath.  You know what they say, all it takes is one person to make a change.  Well it just so happens that Spring of 2018 two Santa Fe women have individually challenged Goliath to a dual.  What is the challenge?  Single-use plastic straws.  Their environmental campaigns, independent of themselves, are burning the candle at both ends.  Amber Morningstar Byars and Emma Cohen started small and soon gathered mass attention.  Is the red carpet ready?  Everyone loves a good underdog story.

Amber Morningstar Byars is about to graduate from IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) with a BA in Indigenous Liberal Studies and an AFA in Studio Arts.  As president of ILSSO (Indigenous Liberal Studies Student Organization) not only is she on an admirable path to Law School, but she has been actively organizing a number of community work efforts for years.  Inspired by the Strawless in Seattle movement, organized by the nonprofit Lonely Whale, Amber declared her senior project the Strawless Santa Fe campaign.  If you’ve earned a degree or certificate specializing in a specific field of work, you’re all too familiar with requirements and projects that must be fulfilled in order to complete the coursework.  What is beautiful and inspiring about this senior project is Amber’s choice to have an impact with lasting affects on both the Santa Fe community and the overall health of the global environment.  This queen is passionately going well beyond her degree requirements.

Amber Morningstar Byars; strawless, of course!

Amber has made her Strawless agenda very clear to the city of Santa Fe, and she’s approached this campaign with a sustainable and inclusive plan.  She has been hard at work recruiting Santa Fe restaurant owners to sign a pledge which will end their single-use plastic straw shenanigans by the end of 2018.  The choice as to whether the restaurant bans straws altogether, or switches to an eco-friendly option, is up to the restaurant.  The restaurant industry is arguably the world’s leading example of unnecessary straw use.  Regardless of your drink order, or whether you prefer a straw to consume it or not, a straw is going to show up in your drink.  You may think, “Well just ask for ‘no straw’, whatever, no big deal.”  Go ahead, my friend.  Make that request and let me know how many times your server habitually serves your drink with a straw, anyway.  This isn’t an issue that speaks to servers in the restaurant industry, but rather an issue that speaks to the bad habits from society has as a whole.  The kind of bad habits we don’t really think about until sea turtles have plastic straws lodged in their nostrils, and community leaders begin to rally against the unnecessary waste.  Straws suck, literally.

Next on Amber’s agenda is to engage with the disabled community which depend on the use of straws.  Differing from the world of restaurants where plastic straws are unnecessarily flying all over the darn place, people within the disabled community have a functional purpose and need for straws.  Whatever policy changes occur from Strawless Santa Fe, it is a priority the disabled community will not be negatively affected.

Photo courtesy Strawless Santa Fe

Lastly, the agenda includes one of America’s most favorite ways of getting politically active, a petition.  The goal to acquire 1,000 signatures has been set.  The petition asks Santa Fe bars and restaurants to all-in-all stop offering plastic straws to their patrons, and switch to an eco-friendly option, instead.  There are staggering statistics of how many plastic straws we put into the waste stream.  In the U.S., alone, 500,000,000 single-use plastic straws are used every single day.  That’s enough straws to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times.  And please spare us with the, “…but I recycle my straw.”  Tossing straws into your curbside recycle bin is not an actual solution because the low density polyethylene you’re sucking your beverage through is not recyclable.  Learning about the environmental impact of single-use plastic straw waste is like a crash you can’t look away from.  The information can’t be unlearned once images of suffering sea life float in your memory.  Suddenly that latte doesn’t taste so good being sipped through that straw…

Photo courtesy Strawless Santa Fe

Feeling motivated?  Sign Amber’s petition, here.

Perhaps by now you’re feeling inspired to ditch the straw, but love sipping those frozen margaritas on the weekend?  Our second queen in action has a solution for you.  Emma Cohen grew up in Santa Fe and holds a Masters in Environmental Management from Harvard.  She’s been one of those ‘straw people’ for a while.  For years Emma has worked to end plastic waste in our oceans by mingling with organizations like Save the Mermaids, and she previously worked for LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) as a Pollution Prevention specialist.  In casual moments she’d order friends’ drinks with no straws, regularly.  After years of raising awareness to plastic pollution, serendipity connected Emma to a person by the name of Miles Pepper.  This man shared the belief that straws suck, and something needed to be done to stop the unnecessary waste stream.  As Emma described their meeting, “Straw people unite!”  Together, the two of them have created FinalStraw, and are encouraging the world to Suck Responsibly.  Yes, it’s a reusable straw, but there is nothing basic about this product.  Trust me, you’ve totally never seen anything like this, before.

When asked what sparked her revolution against single-use straws, Emma detailed a 2010 trip to Thailand where she strolled the country’s renowned beaches and picked up handfuls of plastic straws that had washed up on the shore.  This became a daily routine, because every single morning the tide would wash ashore more and more plastic straws.  At that moment, Emma’s agenda was born.


Emma Cohen, FinalStraw

Emma and her business partner Miles launched a Kickstarter campaign for FinalStraw in mid-April of this year, and the response has been nothing short of amazing.  The success, so far, clearly proves people are beyond interested in an eco-friendly solution for straws.  Thousands of people have pre-ordered their FinalStraw via the Kickstarter campaign.  Should you choose to pre-order your own straw, you’ll receive bonus special early bird pricing… as though you needed more incentive to clean up the oceans.  (You’ve got until May 19th to get that pre-order in!)  How many straws will be spared from the oceans as people begin to use this fun, reusable solution?  Again, what seems like an impossible, super steep uphill battle is gaining traction.  The paradigm is shifting.

Want your own FinalStraw?  I don’t blame you!  Get one here.

The affects of this everyday, single-use item have really taken a toll on our planet’s ecosystems.  Have you ever thought about the work it would take to change the habits of billions of people on a global scale?  Seriously, just let your imagination sink into that idea for a few seconds.  It’s an overwhelming thought!  We live in a world where there is no shortage of social movements to get involved with, and there are many projects worldwide deserving of our attention.  It is easy to feel defeated because of this.  I asked Emma what advice she’d give to a person in this state, and she quickly summed up a plan of action, “Hone in to a specific part of your passion, and narrow the focus.  Start small, but make a big deal out of a small thing.”  This is the perspective Amber and Emma each have taken.  Driven from similar passions for a healthy and clean Mother Earth, they have created their own campaigns to battle single-use plastic straws.  Each of their projects is raising awareness, shifting the everyday habits of people and businesses, while having a lasting positive impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.  These women do not suck, so lets follow their lead.

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