The three Starbucks locations on campus will serve plastic straws only by request starting Winter 2020, according to Cal Poly Corporation Communications Specialist Aaron Lambert. Starbucks was the last on-campus dining facility to still give out plastic straws. 

Cold drinks will be served with nitro lids, which will replace the traditional lids built for straws. Frappuccinos will be the only drinks still needing a straw, and compostable straws will be available for them, according to Lambert. 

“Starbucks has a long history of sustainable innovations and has shown time and again that they are committed to these changes,” Lambert wrote in an email to Mustang News. 

The Law of the Straw

After the passage of the Seattle city law that banned plastic straws, the Starbucks corporate office announced in July 2018 that they would phase out plastic straws in 28,000 stores by 2020. Many Starbucks locations, including others in the city of San Luis Obispo, have already stopped using plastic straws. 

In San Luis Obispo, restaurants are only allowed to serve straws if their customers ask for them due to an ordinance the city passed in 2018. 

Starbucks locations on-campus do not have to follow the San Luis Obispo straw ordinance because Cal Poly is governed by the state, not the city, according to Cal Poly Zero Waste Coordinator Anastasia Nicole. Now, however, Starbucks locations on campus will be in compliance with city law anyway. 

Campus Dining announced a campus-wide switch to paper straws with the start of the 2018-19 academic year, according to a Cal Poly news release

“[Campus] Dining saw the writing on the wall and also heard a lot of students complaining about the fact that that they were using a lot of plastic straws,” Nicole said. “They just decided to stop buying plastic straws and switch to paper straws.”

Before Cal Poly transitioned to paper straws, students, faculty, staff and visitors used about 1 million plastic straws a year. The straw policy moves Cal Poly toward the goal of “diverting 80 percent of consumer waste away from landfills by 2020,” a Cal Poly news release said. 

Are Paper Straws the Solution?

Though paper straws reduce plastic waste, they still contribute to landfills, Nicole said.

The compost facility in San Luis Obispo is only able to compost food waste, so compostable straws, utensils, cups or any other items end up in the landfill, according to Nicole. 

Compostable straws are made of paper, so they decompose in 30 to 60 days, according to a Cal Poly news release. The straws’ rapid composting rate is helpful if they go to a compost facility, but when items decompose quickly in a landfill, they produce methane, which is released into the air as a greenhouse gas, Nicole said. 

To avoid this problem, when the straw gets soggy, consumers can put their paper straw into an indoor potted plant as mulch, or into a worm bin instead of a trash can, Nicole said. 

To be more environmentally friendly, Nicole recommended that instead of using paper straws, customers bring their own metal straw to Starbucks or go without a straw.  

Agriculture and environmental plant sciences sophomore Maddy Garner said she carries a metal straw in her backpack to use when she needs it. 

“There’s no reason to be using so many [straws], because if you go out often, it really adds up,” Garner said. “I’m almost 20, and I feel like I only really started paying attention a couple years ago, so that’s like literally 20 years of plastic straws . . . You don’t think about it but it adds up over time.”

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