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The mission of the Peace River Wildlife Center is to contribute to the survival of native Florida wildlife through rescue, rehabilitation and education. We are always hoping to expand the breadth of our educational message and have recently gotten involved with several other local non-profits with a similar mission.

The Last Straw is a grassroots project is to preserve our environment by encouraging the public to commit to using biodegradable products. This project is an initiative of civic and nonprofit groups in Punta Gorda and throughout Charlotte County. Its aim is to protect and restore the greater Charlotte Harbor estuary system and watershed by developing a campaign to reduce the use of non-biodegradable service products, starting with plastic drinking straws and beverage stirrers.

Charter members of the group’s cause also include the Punta Gorda Civic Association, TEAM Punta Gorda, the Punta Gorda Rotary Club, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Smart Growth Punta Gorda.

The project seeks to reduce plastic pollution, both in our waterways and on land. Single-use items are one of the biggest threats to our environment. Plastic grocery bags, water bottles and straws are some of the most common litter seen strewn about any neighborhood and are especially dangerous in an area surrounded by water like Southwest Florida.

Petroleum-based plastics never biodegrade by breaking down into innocuous component atoms. Over time (measured in decades), plastics exposed to air and sunlight become brittle and break apart into smaller and smaller pieces until you would need a microscope to see them (microplastics.) Plastics that end up in an ocean, lake or river take even longer to break apart.

Often these microplastic particulates end up in our waterways and can cause harm to the creatures living there. The animals ingest the plastics, causing irritation to the digestive system, obstruction or a satiated feeling even when no nutritional substance has been eaten. This can lead to wasting and starvation.

These tiny plastic pieces also contain harmful chemicals and collect other toxins that are ingested by aquatic life. These products greatly harm our environment and injure our wildlife. Through local efforts we aim to raise awareness of these issues and join in a worldwide grassroots campaign encouraging the responsible use of plastics.

The plastic straw has become the misleading symbol of this movement. Straws are neither the number one culprit in environmental pollution nor the most dangerous. They are simply a shining example of the amount of single-use plastics we go through on a daily basis — and one that is easily given up.

Yes, there are people who need to use straws. And plastic straws are cheaper to manufacture than paper or metal ones. I don’t personally think governmental regulations are the correct way to cut down on pollution. I don’t think we need to outlaw plastic straws or plastic bags. But we do need to make them the exception rather than the rule for most people.

I’d like to believe that if people are educated about the problem, they will be willing to make the changes that need to be made voluntarily. If we each do one thing to help the environment, it will add up to big changes.

PRWC and The Last Straw will be at Taste of Punta Gorda from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 3 in Laishley Park (100 Nesbit Street, Punta Gorda). Taste of Punta Gorda is a culinary delight with all-day entertainment, vendors serving desserts and specialty drinks, arts, crafts, nonprofits, a don’t-miss silent auction, and a great Kids Fun Zone. 100 percent of the event’s net donation revenue benefits local nonprofits and charitable organizations. In the past three years, the Punta Gorda Rotary and its charitable foundation have given $134,000 in grants and community projects.

PRWC has been the recipient of many of those grants. The Rotary Club is instrumental in helping us with the educational component of our mission. They support us in our position that an enlightened populace will benefit the wildlife with which we share this little corner of paradise. Participation in The Last Straw initiative may result in fewer animals needing medical assistance.

Stop by our tents at Taste. If you are interested in volunteering your time and expertise, contact one of the member organizations. Like any fledgling group, we need your help. Our goal is to keep the copious amounts of single-use plastics and non-biodegradable products out of our environment.

Select products with less packaging, recycle properly, and throw trash in an appropriate receptacle — never litter. Many of the practices we are encouraging are simple to do and require no sacrifice at all. So, even if you’re not quite ready to use that last straw, there are still things you can do to help preserve the beauty of the Charlotte Harbor estuary system we rely on for our quality of living, and which the wildlife relies on for its very existence.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

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