Bye, bye plastic; hello metal: Third grader’s idea of metal straws launches at Graveraet

Principal Sarah Kemppainen (left) of Graveraet Elementary School and lunch lady Jodi Michael look over "The Reinaas Project" Friday, which is third grader Anton Reinaas' idea of incorporating metal straws into the lunchroom instead of using plastic straws. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — During each lunch and afternoon snack session at Graveraet Elementary School, around 250 students can be found using plastic straws. A straw here for chocolate milk, a straw there for juice.

With roughly 200 days of school, nearly 50,000 straws are unwrapped from the white packaging paper, used for 15 to 20 minutes and then dumped into a round trash can. But where do those straws end up?

Graveraet third-grader Anton Reinaas found that using 50,000 straws annually was just too alarming to sit by and do nothing. So he came up with a green strategy to address the plastic dilemma: metal straws.

With the help of lunch lady Jodi Michael and Graveraet Elementary School Principal Sarah Kemppainen, Reinaas said he wanted to make a difference in his community and implementing metal straws in his school was one way to show other schools that they too, can make a difference.

“I hate having the community and the world getting trashed by all

the plastic straws and all the other plastic stuff … it’s really not good for the world,” Reinaas said.

Each year, more than 22 million pounds of plastic ends up in the Great Lakes, impacting the lake’s water quality, fish and other species that inhabit the waters, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

This disturbing fact was one of the reasons that prompted Reinaas to take charge, he said.

“We can save money on it for other things and keep it away from animals. And hopefully (it will) spread to other schools,” Reinaas said. “It helps the environment a lot when you don’t use plastic straws and you use metal.”

After looking over what the cost would be for metal straws, Michael said the idea was feasible, with 500 stainless straws costing $115.

Without knowing the exact amount of waste plastic straws produce, Michael knew that this would be the right step moving forward. As a Girl Scout troop leader, Michael said she tries to help kids who have ideas that have the goal of benefiting the community.

Nearly 250 plastic straws are used each day at Graveraet Elementary School which totals to approximately 50,000 straws per school year. However, Anton Reinaas, a third grader at Graveraet Elementary School, is making some changes at his school, starting with replacing plastic straws with metal straws. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

“To me, this isn’t a hard thing to try. It’s a couple extra dishes, it’s not something that’s going to put us out a lot,” Michael said.

To receive funding for the metal straws, Reinaas presented his idea, or “The Reinaas Project,” on a poster board with facts and statistics about plastic pollution to the Graveraet Parent Association at a Feb. 10 meeting.

As a principal, Kemppainen said she couldn’t get over how brave he was to do the research, let alone taking the initiative to implement the idea with the help of his peers.

“I kind of said to the GPA, to the Graveraet Parent Association, the power of one. The power of one child who can make a tremendous difference can have this impact that literally has this ripple effect,” Kemppainen said. “We predict and we hope that our other elementary schools and all our buildings will adopt this.

“The Reinaas Project” poster has been laminated and will be displayed in the cafeteria to inspire other students and their ideas.” This idea is a “game changer,” not only for Marquette but for society as a whole, Kemppainen said.

“It might cost more but I think that the dollar cost versus the cost of the environment and the cost of our wasteful nature in society … is worth it,” Kemppainen said. “I’m willing to come in and wash those straws if I need to. I would do that because I think this is the right way for us to be moving. The other thing I love about this remarkable boy is he’s going to grow up in the world and he’s going to be responsible for the future.”

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.


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