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  • Molly Cullen

The Straw Debate

Straws have been at the center of the plastic pollution debate for the past few months, and you have probably seen your favorite companies attempting to reduce or even completely eliminate straws. UVA Green Dining has eliminated straws from all residential dining halls, and is attempting to reduce or eliminate straws from other on-grounds restaurants. Look out for signage encouraging you to Skip the Straw at these locations.

You may be wondering, “How much do straws really contribute to worldwide pollution?” It is true that straws only contribute to a small percentage of our total pollution. One huge problem with straws is that they are too small to be recycled by industrial recycling facilities. So most straws end up in landfills, where they cannot decompose (2). When remnants of straws make their way into our oceans, they can poison sea life and harm the ecosystem. The reason that so many companies are focusing on eliminating plastic, single-use straws, is because they are unnecessary*, impossible to recycle, and harmful to the environment.

*It should be noted that some people actually do require the use of straws due to physical limitations.

We only use straws for maybe an hour or two at most, but they last forever in landfills and oceans.

While we should all reconsider our use of straws, the overarching environmental issue is the accumulation of single-use plastics. Our plastic cups, plastic to-go containers, plastic utensils, and plastic bags, are all single-use items that, unless properly recycled, end up in landfills or our oceans. According to a National Geographic article, “by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, ton for ton… if present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills” (1). The article also states that of our 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste, only 9% has been recycled. With the increasing production of plastic worldwide, these numbers are very alarming.

UVA Green Dining is working to reduce the use of plastic across grounds, as well as communicate the importance of recycling. As a UVA student myself, I encourage you to take advantage of the programs already offered, such as the Reusable To-Go Container Program and the Cupanion Fill it Forward Program. Reducing personal plastic waste does not have to be a daunting task. Small and simple changes in your daily life can help keep plastic out of the environment.

So before you dismiss the “straw debate” as unnecessary and over-dramatic, take into account the facts discussed above. But also keep in mind the big picture: we should all be working to significantly eliminate or reduce single-use plastics from our lives.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post!

If you’re interested in learning more about UVA Green Dining’s sustainability initiatives, check out this link:

Sign up for UVA’s Green Dining Newsletter to get updates on new blog posts.

If you’d like to learn more about the harmful effects of straws, check out these links:


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