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March 27, 2023

County honors youth for environmental work

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors honored Shelby O’Neil for her environmental work by convincing Dignity Health and Alaska Airlines to ban single-use plastic straws.

The 17-year-old recently convinced two major companies, Alaska Airlines and Dignity Health, to halt use of single-use plastic straws and stir sticks. Between the two companies, it is expected to result in more than 26 million fewer straws and sticks used. O’Neil is founder of Jr Ocean Guardians, which she formed as part of her 2017 Girl Scout Gold Award project. She is active at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where she’s a Teen Conservation Leader and where she became inspired to get involved in ocean conservation.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho noted how she’s a San Juan Bautista resident and how he grew up with her mother and aunt.

He congratulated O’Neil for being involved and bringing awareness to the dangers of plastic straws in the oceans.

“Unfortunately, people are not the cleanest animals on the face of the earth,” he said.

He noted how the oceans have been loaded with plastic and other trash.

“I’m just so grateful you’ve taken the initiative at such a young age,” he said.

Botelho mentioned he’s attending a Friday breakfast where the American Red Cross will present O’Neil with an honor for being an environmental hero.

O’Neil thanked the board and said Botelho almost made her cry. She noted how she’d been pushing the straw issue for about a year.

“We don’t see the ocean constantly so it’s been nice to show inland kids can do something to protect our environment as well,” she said.

-Kollin Kosmicki