Caitlin Scott | Mustang News

Cal Poly is taking another step towards its zero waste goal with the replacement of plastic straws throughout campus dining halls.

Campus Dining announced that they are making the switch to compostable paper straws beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year. The move away from plastic straws to a more recyclable alternative helps support the university’s commitment to sustainability as Cal Poly works towards diverting 80 percent of its consumer waste away from landfills by 2020, according to a press release from Campus Dining.

The announcement comes just before California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sept. 20, banning restaurants from handing out plastic straws unless a customer asks for one.

We are constantly looking for ways to do our part in reducing the campus carbon footprint,” Assistant Director of Campus Dining Russell Monteath wrote in an email to Mustang News. “The paper straws are both compostable and biodegradable, which will help Campus Dining continue to lower our environmental footprint.”

Currently, the paper straws are only available in university-made dining facilities, including The Avenue, Poly Deli, 805 Kitchen, Lucy’s, and Mustang Station. Corporate affiliates on campus, such as Starbucks, Subway, and Shake Smart, are not required to make the switch and may continue to offer plastic straws. For whomever needs or prefers them, plastic straws will continue to be available upon request.

Currently, students, faculty, staff, and visitors use close to one million straws per year. Chemistry senior and Campus Dining employee Kiersten Smith supports the university’s decision to eliminate plastic straws and believes it sets a good precedent for other universities to follow.

“I think it’s cool that Campus Dining is taking steps towards becoming more environmentally friendly,” Smith said. “No straws at all would probably be the best option, but baby steps in the right direction is still great.”

However, some may argue against a complete plastic straw ban, as some people with disabilities rely on plastic straws to help them drink.

Campus Dining’s adoption of paper straws follows a nationwide trend of companies and city governments moving to recyclable alternatives, including the City of Santa Barbara, which banned plastic straws, and the City of San Luis Obispo, which made plastic straws available only upon request.

The anti-straw initiative stems from the environmental group Lonely Whale, which spearheaded the global movement last year. According to the non-profit, plastics are likely to outnumber fish in the ocean by the year 2050. Since the launch of their “For a Strawless Ocean” campaign, people across the country have vowed to get rid of the pesky plastics once and for all.

Although plastic straws only contribute a small portion of overall plastic pollution, they are one of the top 10 items collected globally on the coastlines of the planet, according to the International Coastal Cleanup Report. While paper straws are just as likely to end up in landfills as their plastic counterparts, the paper straws are fully compostable and will decompose within 30 to 60 days.

While most seem in favor of Campus Dining’s environmentally friendly move, others remain skeptical that the university’s decision might not be that sustainable after all.

“I think that Campus Dining does these sorts of things because they know that eventually students are going to take action,” Cal Poly Sustainability Coordinator Kylee Singh said. “Straws are an easy change, but hopefully the next step is really thinking about how we can use reusables more rather than just switching to alternatives.”

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