Americans use more than 500 million straws every day — more than one per man, woman, and child. Most of them end up in the landfill or in the ocean. Numerous campaigns in England and some U.S. cities have sprung up to ban these sucky polluters.
On April 18, the University of Portland (UP) in Portland, OR, became the first U.S. university to ban plastic straws at all food or beverage outlets on campus, in partnership with Bon Appétit Management Company, the university’s food service provider. (This isn’t their only groundbreaking anti-plastic “first” — together, UP and Bon Appétit also enacted the first West Coast university ban on sales of bottled water on campus, in 2010.)
The move was initiated by Environmental Studies Department Chair Dr. Steve Kolmes, and Bon Appétit General Manager Kirk Mustain was happy to implement it. UP was using approximately 9,000 straws a month. Lined up end to end over a typical four-year college span, that translates into 55 miles of straws.
To help with the adjustment, Mustain gave away 400 reusable stainless-steel straws to UP students. For straw diehards, the Bon Appétit team installed on-demand dispensers with paper straws. In addition to being made from a renewable resource, paper straws are compostable and disintegrate quickly in earth or water.
A few days after UP announced its ban, a California school also went strawless, followed on April 25 by Knox College in Illinois (which, like UP, is a Bon Appétit client). The student chair of the Knox Student Senate Sustainability Committee asked for a complete ban on all straws. Director of Sustainability Initiatives Deborah Steinberg consulted with Bon Appétit’s acting General Manager, Mark Daniels, and decided to move to paper.
“It has been a successful switch and an easy step to reducing the impact that the Knox community has on our global environment,” says Steinberg.
Knox had been going through 160,000 plastic straws annually. “Although the paper straws do cost more than plastic, the total cost is far outweighed by the savings to the environment,” Daniels agrees.
Other Bon Appétit higher-education clients (and at least one corporate client) are either in the process of jumping on the straw-ban wagon or discussing it. Working with a student sustainability group, Furman University in South Carolina is in the middle of switching, having gone to paper straws in two locations but transitioning the remaining two in fall.
“I’m very proud that my own alma mater, University of Portland, has made this commitment to shrink our environmental footprint together, and that others are following suit,” said Fedele Bauccio, CEO and cofounder of Bon Appétit. “Straws are just one part of this massive problem, but they’re a great place to start.”
Bon Appétit is also looking at additional plastic items that evade recycling as part of a company-wide policy under development.