Bon Appétit, Westminster College’s primary food vendor, is fighting against the unnecessary use of single-use plastic, along with many other businesses in Utah and across the U.S., by removing plastic straws from its cafes and restaurants.
Environmental impact of plastic straws
Between 170 and 390 million straws are used in the U.S. every day, according to the New York Times. Considering an average straw length of 8 inches, the waste from daily plastic straw consumption, lined up behind each other, would be sufficient to circle the world at least once.
According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic straws are also one of the top ten items found at coastline clean ups.
Plastic, as used in the straws, is popular due to its high durability and stability. Therefore, it should not be surprising that it is not biodegradable, according to Polymers Journal.
“Plastic has a decomposition period of approximately 400 years yet, we have been consuming it as if a biodegradable material that can simply be produced and then easily absorbed and metabolized by Earth,” said Tim Lindgren, a Westminster environmental studies alumnus. “Only about 10 percent of plastics historically produced have been recycled, and our ecological systems across the globe are bearing the violent impact of that figure.”I
Initiatives across the U.S.
Due to growing awareness of and concern over plastic pollution, there have been national efforts to curb the use of single-use plastics.
In 2019, California became the first state to put a ban on plastic straws, forbidding restaurants to provide them, unless explicitly asked for by customers.
The city of Seattle went even further and required all food service businesses to replace all disposable food service items made of plastic — containers, cups, straws, etc. — with compostable alternatives.
Big food and beverage companies are also responding to the environmental concern.
Starbucks Coffee Company, for example, pledged to replace plastic straws with environmentally friendlier options in all their stores by 2020, in a press release March 20. The company claims this will eliminate more one billion plastic straws a year.
Additionally, the Bon Appétit Management Company began removing plastic straws and stirrers from all of its 1,000 cafés and restaurants in 33 states, in May 2018, including those on Westminster’s campus.I
Initiatives in Utah
In Utah, the state government prevents the regulation of “auxiliary containers” or imposing mandatory fees on those items whether they are made from plastic, paper or other materials.
Nonetheless, there are local organizations advocating for a shift away from plastic straw use in Salt Lake City.
The movement Strawless in SLC, started by the SLC Air Protectors, urges local businesses to move away from plastic straws, to reduce the amount of single-use plastic. So far, 95 restaurants in Salt Lake Valley have signed on to be part of the Strawless in SLC campaign.
The organization said they have only reached about 12 percent of restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley.I
Initiative at Westminster
The Westminster cafe, located in the Shaw Student Center, implemented the plastic straw ban in the Fall semester of 2018. Since then, only paper straws have been available on request.
“We were going through plastic straws like crazy,” said Tony DiRaddo, general manager of Bon Appétit Westminster. “We were going through boxes of straws in a week.”
Before replacing plastic straws, Bon Appétit was going through about 1,200 straws every two weeks, according to DiRaddo.
Christine Sheehan, a Westminster student-athlete, said she likes that Bon Appétit is being conscious of the waste it’s producing.
A lot of people right now are on that train that plastic straws are killing all the animals in the ocean,” Sheehan said. “It’s just more sustainability work, it’s not hurting anyone to take out straws.”
Master of Teaching student Steven Dama also said he supports Bon Appétit’s decision to reduce plastic waste but wonders how efficient it is.
“People put a lot of pressure on consumers — the industry and politicians do too — because it is easy to make people feel guilty,” Dama said. “For example, when I see on a shampoo bottle, ‘turn off the shower while you shampoo your hair,’ that is going to save so little water. I think that’s useless because then you drive past an oil refinery and [think about] how much water they are using.”
Tim Lindgren echoed Dama and said, in the grand scheme of things, plastic straws use is not the most pressing environmental issue.
“Considering the sheer conjunction of ecological harm factors, the plastic straw ban is, quite literally, a straw in a haystack of actions needed,” Lindgren said. “It will certainly help. But we should not be tricked that such, or other small-scale solutions, will suffice.”