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Fifth-graders press Dunkin’ Donuts to reduce use of plastic straws

Sophia Cukras (left) and Amanda He enjoying a cold drink at Dunkin' Donuts with a reusable stainless straw.
Sophia Cukras (left) and Amanda He enjoying a cold drink at Dunkin' Donuts with a reusable stainless straw.Sara Tolaney

Rising fifth-graders Sophia Cukras and Amanda He have found a perfect way to kick off their summer vacation: an environmental crusade to reduce the use of plastic straws.

Following a similar petition to Starbucks they started in late spring, the 10-year-olds are urging Dunkin’ Donuts to adopt a policy that would make plastic straws available to customers upon request only.

In just two weeks, the online petition to Dunkin’ Donuts has garnered more than 140,000 signatures.

“Instead of banning plastic straws, we want them to adopt a plastic-straw-upon-request policy, because we know disabled people or people with special needs might need a plastic straw,” Cukras said.

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Calls for plastic straw bans have been building momentum in recent weeks. On July 1, Seattle became the first major US city to ban plastic straws, with dozens of other towns and cities considering similar policies.

Seattle-based chain Starbucks followed suit about a week later, pledging to eliminate plastic straws from its locations by 2020. Early in July, the Walt Disney Co. announced that it would establish a ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers by mid-2019.

Cukras and He started their petition to Starbucks two months ago and collected 1,559 supporters, until it was deemed a success after the coffee chain’s July announcement.

The girls were thrilled to see how much more support their second petition had received.

“We were really excited because we really hadn’t gotten that many signatures before,” Cukras said. “We were actually being noticed. We thought it could help us save the environment by having more people sign.”

Cukras and He, who live in Brookline and Wellesley, respectively, have been attending school together for three years at The Park School, a private school in Brookline.

They were inspired to act after they read an article in their science class that detailed the effects of plastic straw use. The article stated that Americans were using more than 500 million straws a day and that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

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“We know that all these issues are out there, but the one that caught our attention was really the straws,” Cukras said. “Before we read that article, we weren’t aware how many straws are being used . . . and that it’s polluting not just the US but the entire world.”

The girls joined their school’s earth club earlier this year to continue fighting for the environment. They’ve helped the club organize bake sales and other fund-raisers to collect money for organizations that aim to reduce plastic waste in oceans.

“We’ve been trying for now just to be involved,” Cukras said. “I think once we get older we’ll probably get more educated on environmental justice.”

Cukras and He chose to target Canton-based Dunkin’ Donuts because of its New England connection and its size.

“If they change, they have so many Dunkin’ Donuts across the country that it’ll make a big impact and also it won’t be as hard for other companies to change,” Cukras said.

The girls are planning to hand-deliver their petition to the Dunkin’ Donuts headquarters on Aug. 23.

“I think once we do the delivery and stuff like that, we’ll try to brainstorm what we should do next,” she said.

Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman Lindsay Cronin said the company is aware of the petition and will “respectfully” accept it next month.

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“Dunkin’ Donuts is committed to making improvements to our packaging that make sense for the planet and for our customers,” Cronin said. “To this end, we are constantly evaluating all of our packaging, including plastic straws, and earlier this year announced plans to eliminate foam cups from Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant worldwide by 2020.”


Sophia Eppolito can be reached at sophia.eppolito@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.