Teen Tackles Restaurant Use of Single-Use Plastics

polystyrene food containers, plastic bags, and other fast food waste

Isha Sangani, a Washington State teen, is taking on corporate indifference to single-use plastic pollution. She launched a petition asking Panda Express to stop providing plastic utensils and straws. Earth911 asked Isha to share her story in a first-person account.

Isha Sangani

Isha Sangani

“The ocean is filled with plastic.” How often do you hear statements like this one?

It feels as if the barrage of environmental pessimism reaching our ears has increased, which makes it feel as though individual action for our planet won’t make a difference. Worse, trying to change consumer behavior with dreary statistics can shut down action, not encourage it.

As a high school student from Washington State who cares deeply about the ocean, I wanted to do something. I decided to go supply-side and push restaurants to improve their practices regarding single-use plastics.

Puget Sound

Puget Sound. Photo: Isha Sangani

Target: Panda Express

Panda Express was the first to appear on my radar. While McDonald’s, Subway, and other major restaurants have taken steps toward a smaller plastic footprint, Panda Express has done comparatively little. A typical meal there involves a cup, utensils, bowl, and maybe a bag — all made of plastic.

My local Panda Express has an average of between 400 and 500 orders a day. Most of the waste goes into the trash instead of recycling. Multiply that by Panda Express’ 2,000 store locations and you have a big problem.

I was inspired by the successful campaign to make Starbucks cups more sustainable. Taking what I learned from the Starbucks activists, I started a petition addressed to Panda Express on Change.org. I made my request clear: For the sake of Washington State and its critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, Panda Express should stop providing single-use plastic to customers.

By promoting my petition at local environmental events and on social media, I received more than 2,000 signatures.

plastic cutlery, lids, and straws

Plastic lids, straws, and utensils at Panda Express. Photo: Isha Sangani

One Voice at a Time

A letter to Panda Express is sent every time someone signs my petition.

My petition has one particularly favorable consequence — individuals can take the opportunity to voice their discontent. One signer bluntly stated, “Customers are turned off by this. I know I am.”

Remarks like these are amusing, but the conviction behind them makes me confident that a small group of environmentally conscious consumers can cause large-scale change.

Instead of asking uninformed consumers to make lifestyle changes for the abstract purpose of “saving the ocean,” we can hold corporations responsible. The supply-side approach is how we truly save the ocean. I encourage you to sign the petition and ride this wave.

Feature image courtesy of Isha Sangani

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  1. This is utterly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Putting plastic forks, lids and straws behind a counter so that customers have to ask for them, going up there multiple times, does not stop the ocean from getting trash in it. All our trash goes to landfills, not the ocean. If you want to see trash in oceans no more, you need to go after the people specifically putting trash there, not everyone else!

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