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When it comes to sustainability, foodservice operators grasp at straws

An item about the size of a pencil has become the latest target in foodservice operators’ sustainability plans. Though small, plastic straws are said to have a large impact on the environment, with Americans using approximately 500 million straws each day, according to a release from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, which temporarily ditched plastic straws as part of an Earth Day promotion this year.

In recent months, a growing number of eateries and cities across the United States have scrapped plastic straws. In July, Seattle enacted a ban on plastic straws and utensils, requiring operators to instead offer compostable alternatives, while New York City is considering similar restrictions on plastic straws.

And the straw slash is becoming more than just a fringe movement: Large-scale operators are taking action as well. In a statement that referred to problems stemming from plastic as “horrific,” Bon Appetit Management Co. announced that it will get rid of plastic straws in its 1,000-plus foodservice spots across 33 states—which range from restaurants to concepts at universities and museums—by September 2019.

At least two of the company’s dining operations—the University of Portland in Portland, Ore., and Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.—have already removed the items.

Making the switch 

Until recently, Dartmouth College’s foodservice program went through about 2,500 plastic straws a day, says Don Reed, the school’s associate director of dining services. That’s changed since May 8, when the last plastic straw was given out by a dining services-run eatery on the Hanover, N.H., campus.

“I just felt from a department standpoint it was the right thing to do,” Reed says of phasing out the plastic sippers, a process that officially began after his paper distributor sourced an alternative and members of his team had a chance to informally test it.

In place of plastic, the school now offers biodegradable paper straws and, for students seeking a reusable option, sells packs of four metal straws at its Collis Cafe. Despite some complaints reported in the school newspaper, feedback from students has been “mostly very positive,” he says.

Though the paper straws are somewhat more expensive—each paper version costs dining services about as much as seven plastic ones—Reed says his operation plans on sticking with the change.

For other colleges considering a straw repeal, making the switch over the summer could reduce potential friction over the change, he says, but for Dartmouth, the spring introduction made sense. According to Reed: “[The transition was] something we really wanted to get going on and be a bit ahead of the movement, rather than wait.”

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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