By Jasmine Cruz
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — As national discussion swirls around the environmental impact of plastic, a group at Virginia Commonwealth University recently launched a campaign hoping to end plastic straw use on campus.
Dr. Ching-Yu Huang, an instructor in the VCU Department of Biology, brought the “Kick the Straw” campaign to campus. Her husband, Dr. Justin Ellis, previously started the campaign at Longwood University, where he is a faculty member and assistant director of Clean Virginia Waterways.
“Faculty can tell you what to do, but if [the] student doesn’t have the motivation to do that, it’s not going to work,” Huang said. Her students are leading the project, though she remains present for questions and assistance.
The campaign has partnered with Simply Straws, a California-based company that manufactures reusable straws.
Huang hopes people will establish lifelong habits by making a small change in their daily lives, such as refusing to use plastic straws.
“Our world has become accustomed to using plastic straws in exchange for a minimal convenience,” said Katherine Peterman, a VCU student helping lead Kick the Straw. Peterman wrote over email that the campaign is to educate people about sustainability and to become aware of the waste they create.
VCU is the third Virginia university to join the Simply Straws Pledge Against Plastic Straws Campus Challenge. Old Dominion University and Longwood also are participating in the campaign.
According to the Simply Straws website, the Campus Challenge pairs the company with schools and asks students to pledge to stop using plastic straws. The campaign includes K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. There is a prize of 100 custom-etched glass straws to the school that has the most pledges by the end of April.
When a student pledges, Simply Straws sends them a free glass straw. Over a person’s lifetime, the use of a reusable straw prevents 30,000 straws from ending up in a landfill or waterways, according to the company.
Clean Virginia Waterways sponsors events to remove litter from rivers and beaches, Ellis noted.
“Most years, since we’ve been working with citizens … straws is consistently in the top 10 items that we find during those cleanups,” Ellis said.
He said Aramark, a food-service and facility management company serving more than 5 million students, including those at Longwood and VCU, gave 500 metal straws as gifts to commuters who bought a meal plan.
Aramark and Ellis are currently working together to end the use of plastic straws at Longwood campus dining locations, either by everyone carrying a reusable straw or cafeterias offering paper straws.
Ellis said the Aramark director told him Longwood could be free of plastic straws by next fall. In 2018, Aramark announced a single-use plastic reduction strategy that included phasing out plastic straws and stirrers. The food-service giant predicted its efforts would create a 60% decrease in plastic straws by 2020.
All of VCU’s 20-plus dining locations provide plastic straws.
“Our campaign will eventually try to get VCU food vendors on board,” Peterman said. She said campaign members have reached out to local businesses that offer alternatives, such as paper and corn straws, to receive guidance on how to get other businesses to participate.
Kick the Straw campaign events take place throughout the month. The next event is Party for the Planet, which will be held Saturday at Historic Tredegar, 500 Tredegar St.