Feel like you’ve been grasping at straws since sipping and slurping options went plastic-free across Duke’s campus? You’re not alone—many of those picking up a drink at on-campus eateries have noticed a change in their experience.
During the summer of 2018, Duke Dining banned the use of disposable plastics from all 34 campus venues, requiring dining locations to stop carrying plastic straws, amongst other items such as plastic hot and cold beverage cups, carryout bags and utensils.
“Sustainability isn’t optional for Duke Dining,” Robert Coffey, director of Duke Dining, said in an interview at the time. “The disposable plastics ban is another step in the right direction.”
Grayson Crabtree, training representative and customer service coordinator for Duke Dining, explained in an email that the plastics ban was part of a large Duke Dining effort toward environmental sustainability.
“As part of the Deliberate Dining Project, which launched in January 2018, Duke Dining implemented a full ban on single-use (non-compostable and non-recyclable) plastics in July 2019,” Crabtree wrote.
The anti-straw movement, endearingly labeled “The Last Plastic Straw,” “#StopSucking” and more, has been around for years, gaining much traction beginning in 2015 after a video of a marine biologist extracting a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose went viral.
Throughout 2018, major companies including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Alaska Airlines announced plans to phase out plastic straws from storefronts. Vancouver has instituted a plastic straw ban, Scotland plans to eliminate them by 2019 and New York City, Hawaii and California have pending straw ban legislation.
Duke is not alone in making this switch, but the paper alternatives instituted in on-campus dining locations have left a bad taste in some students' mouths.
“I am NOT a fan of these paper straws,” first-year Francisco Romano wrote in a message.
Multiple students elaborated that the paper straws tend to dissolve quickly during use.
“Paper gets destroyed when wet, making paper straws really inconvenient for drinks,” sophomore Karan Thadhani wrote in a message. “You can really only get through half your coffee before the straw becomes unusable, and it doesn’t really make a significant difference when the whole cup is plastic anyway.”
Sophomore Kyra McDonald echoed the sentiment, explaining that because the straws disintegrate so quickly, a person has to use so many of them.
Others pointed out that paper straws aren’t necessarily compatible with the caps used with plastic straws.
“I’m not a fan of when they give a paper straw with the lids that have the four ‘teeth’ things to hold it there,” senior Lauren Hale wrote in a message. “They dig into the straw until it starts to fall apart.”
Senior Morgan Ferrans also said that plastic straws made of compostable materials are available, so the implementation of paper straws is not the only sustainable option.
Although some students aren’t entirely sold on the paper option, most agree that the decision to move away from plastic straws was for the best.
"I love that Duke has switched from plastic," Hale wrote.
As businesses, cities and individuals alike are joining the anti-straw movement, a wide variety of options are gaining traction at different rates, including metal straws and reusable plastic straws. McDonald also noted that some other restaurants and vendors are experimenting with options such as bamboo straws.
“I am all for the less plastic—save the turtles movement,” she wrote.
Crabtree explained that Duke Dining locations are not necessarily required to use paper straws, but only that what they offer must be either paper straws or “made from a plant-based plastic, both of which are 100-percent compostable,” so the paper choice is location-specific.
Some students’ responses to the campus-wide switch have also been unconditionally positive, focusing on the net environmental benefit of swapping out plastic for any other option.
“I think paper straws are great! People who complain about it melting should suck it up,” junior Well Witoonchart wrote.
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