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Letter: Duke’s plastic ban isn’t as green as it sounds

Last week, Duke Dining announced that it would ban disposable plastics, replacing it with plant-based alternatives. The Chronicle’s coverage included an enticing list of changes: “Plastic straws? Nope. The plastic fork you walked two laps around the Brodhead Center to find? Not anymore.”

Unfortunately, while the plastic ban is a step in the right direction, the reality is not as green as it sounds. Plant-based plastics break down only in commercial composting facilities, so their biodegradable benefits occur only if properly disposed of in compost bins. However, the vast majority of Duke’s buildings lack composting, meaning that most of those disposable products will end up in landfills where they will likely not break down.

Additionally, plant plastics are not marine degradable, so they still contribute to pollution in oceans and waterways. North Carolina is home to a significant population of sea turtles and marine mammals, all of whom will still be vulnerable to waste accumulation in their habitats even with plant-based plastics.

Finally, plant plastics are not recyclable, and they can contaminate recycling streams if tossed in a recycling bin—an easy mistake to make, since many of them sport the label of ‘#7 plastics.’ Replacing one disposable material with another won’t solve expanding landfills or garbage in the ocean. 

The real solution is to reduce our consumption of single-use materials so that we can stop waste accumulation, instead of just shuffling around what we do with our trash. Reusable bottles, bags, silverware, and straws are easy to access, often offered for free by Sustainable Duke. Switching to reusable products is just a change in habit, not a disruption in lifestyle.

Duke must also offer the composting infrastructure necessary to accommodate these new plant-based materials, and Duke students need to know how to properly dispose of them. 

Plant alternatives won’t be enough without broader infrastructure and behavioral improvements. Single-use straws? Yep. Single-use fork? Still the same—unless you take action to change it.

Claire Wang is a Trinity senior.


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