To Straw, or Not to Straw
Ashley Taylor, Guest Writer
Students and faculty at Saint Martin’s University are still transitioning to the use of reusable straws, months after the school’s food service, Bon Appétit, introduced a summer initiative to remove all plastic straws on campus. Bon Appétit initiated the company wide mandate on May 31, 2018, removing all plastic straws and drinkware not only from Saint Martin’s, but also from their other restaurant and catering locations. This is a monumental shift towards the company’s vision for a more sustainable future. It is also the first of its kind to be completed by any food or major restaurant company in the country.
To inform and remind the students of the change on the Saint Martin’s campus, flyers are posted around designated eating areas advertising the extreme average lifespan of plastic straws. The flyers emphasize the impact plastic straws have on the earth, detailing that the waste equates to the length of the circumference of the earth 2.5 times a day. In other words, roughly 500 million plastic straws are used by consumers every day.
The student body has mixed emotions about the initiative. Some students did not find it as much of a surprise, but rather a restriction that should have been introduced earlier on campus. When asked her opinion about this subject, Jessica Andreas, a sophomore at Saint Martin’s, says she is familiar with this ban from her previous exposure with her friend group’s anti-straw policy. “It is a great thing they finally did this,” she said, “turtles have always been a sacred figure in Hawaiian culture, and they are the species most affected the careless disposal of straws,” Andreas was born and raised in Hawaii prior to coming to Saint Martin’s for college. Exposure from her peers and cultural connection familiarized Andreas to the ban, well before it was enacted on campus.
The connection drawn between mammal endangerment and plastic straw waste is also a discussion point in the straw ban. During the burst of the anti-straw campaign in August 2015, a viral video of a plastic straw lodged within a sea turtles nose surfaced on web, raising a storm of controversy over plastic straws circulating around the world. This video highlighted another issue surrounding the waste in question: the durable compounds and overall makeup of plastic straws. According to research conducted by the recycling company Eco-Cycle, due to the straws’ lightweight design and shape, they become impossible to recycle entirely. As a result, the plastic unable to be recycled has the potential to pollute waterways and put other ecosystems in danger of contamination and harm, which Bon Appétit strives to reduce by enacting this ban.
There is an argument against the ban that compares the danger of plastic straws to the larger danger of plastic litter as a whole. In a study conducted by Jenna Jambeck, an engineering professor at University of Georgia, who concluded that as of 2010, approximately 9 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans and coastlines each year. Since straws are lightweight by design, they only make up approximately 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of waste that pollute shorelines. In much simpler terms, straws only contribute to about 4 percent of the plastic trash reported along the coast. Although they are a key contributor to environmental waste, one must also take into consideration the fraction that it adds in comparison to other plastic waste products, like the household plastic bag.
Local governments have also taken steps in Thurston County to terminate the use of single use disposable plastic bags, unless requested by customers for an additional charge. Unlike straws, approximately half a million plastic bags are used by the Americans daily. This amounts to about 30 billion plastic bags per year, ultimately resulting in about 200,000 bags being discarded in landfills and other waterways. This showcases how plastic restrictions are not new to individuals in Thurston county, and ultimately highlights the magnitude to which plastic bags influence waste population in comparison to straws.
These bans present in entire cities or major companies are designed to be beneficial for the future of the world and people, but some students believe it has the opposite effect. When asked his opinion on the effectiveness of the Bon Appétit campaign, Jansen Dacquel, a sophomore at Saint Martin’s , says that overall, the straw ban is accomplishing what it intends to. However, while it may be contributing positively to environmental awareness and health, he believes it is only a good thing to a certain extent because students and other individuals with disabilities are unable to drink from these cups if they are unfamiliar with the ban, “therefore highlighting their debilitation,” said Dacquel. The ban poses as a double-edged sword that comes with repercussions that some students think are not being addressed.
Although not enacted on the Saint Martin’s campus, Bon Appétit has taken another step in their plastic ban. The company has substituted plastic straws for a more sustainable product on the University of Portland campus: paper straws. Paper straw dispensers are on hand at the university for those who need them. Although paper straws are also a single-use parcel, the elements of the paper are much more biodegradable to their plastic straw counterpart. However, though paper straws are an eco-friendly alternative, the cost of production and distribution is substantially more than the manufacturing of plastic straws. Paper straws, on average, cost about half a cent while paper equates to approximately two and a half cents. This small difference in price amounts overtime, restricting the possibility of major companies in investing in them. The company Life Without Plastic offers further alternatives, like bamboo straws, which run at a price of $19.15 for a pack of 12. Although not an ideal expense for the Bon Appétit team, this step forward is a hallmark for an even greater change this campaign development.
Whether a student is anti-straw or couldn’t care less about the absence of plastic drinkware, this ban on the Saint Martin’s campus has produced an increase in student conversation regarding important environmental issues that expand further than just straws. A new organization called the Sustainability Club sprung up on campus during the beginning of the new academic year. This club is dedicated to “raising awareness among the SMU community and beyond, concerning issues of environmental, social, and economic sustainability,” as described in their mission statement. Sustainability plans to accomplish this through participating in projects like river cleanup and reaching out to GRUB, a company offering volunteering opportunities to students.
The Bon Appétit team is striving for a greater sense of sustainability and whether the students and faculty are ready for it or not, the future is green. And not just in terms of some green straws, either.