NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Most people have seen the dreaded video showing a straw lodged in a sea turtle’s nostril. When Chloe Mei Espinosa saw that video, it horrified her to learn how a small discarded item could affect marine life and the ocean.

To see less plastic straws being used in Orange County, Chloe Mei created a campaign, Skip the Plastic Straw, to teach others about alternatives.

What You Need To Know

  • Chloe Mei Espinosa began the Skip the Plastic Straw campaign and convinced five school districts in OC to drop the single use plastic from being used on campus

  • Her efforts began from a sixth-grade project and led her to being a 2021 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honoree

  • The Prize honors students who are making a positive impact on people and the environment. The top 15 honorees receive a $10,000 award

  • The deadline to apply for this year is April 15

Recently, she presented her campaign to young campers at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach, hoping to get them and their families to think about the environment before they take their next sip.

“A lot of people actually think, ‘Oh, this plastic straw is used for 20 minutes. It’s so small, what can it do to harm our ocean?’ There’s actually so many harmful effects,” she said.

In her presentation, she shares how straws degrade into microplastics that can last for decades and potentially wildlife. She sought alternatives after a sixth-grade project, where she dug into the affects of plastic straws.

She is now 15 years old and on a mission to have as many people as she can convince to use alternative straws made from wheat, metal, bamboo or paper. Her efforts have had people in the community listening.

“To date, I have 1,900 pledges and I’ve also convinced five school districts, which is a total of 245 schools, and two hospitals in Orange County to stop using plastic straws in their cafeterias,” she said.

Her work even inspired her sister, Ella Lin, to get involved.

Together, they create YouTube videos to highlight their environmental efforts.

Last year, Chloe Mei was one of 25 young leaders who received the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes in recognition for tackling topics like climate change, environmental issues and more. 

According to Richman, the top 15 winners will receive $10,000. Mei received $2,500 that she's saving for college.

Barbara Ann Richman is the executive director of the organization. She believes change starts with recognizing young leaders who are making a difference.

“You don’t have to wait to make a difference. Each one of us really can use our talents, use our passions for good and so our hope is that we inspire other people, other young people. But also, all of us by the example of the young heroes that we honor,” Richman said. 

For Chloe Mei, it was a push to keep going and to share that same message with the next generation.

“It shows that my work is being recognized and I know there are so many people out there doing amazing things for our environment. It’s so nice that they are doing this to like recognize youth who are working hard to make a change in the world,” she said.

Even if it is a small change to make, Chloe Mei hopes that with more people putting in the effort it could make huge impact in the ocean.

The deadline to apply for the Gloria Barron Prize for Young heroes is April 15.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount Chloe Mei received as part of a prize. The error has been corrected. (April 15, 2022)