Plastic straws, bags seeing less use on UWRF campus

Posted December 12, 2018

UW-River Falls is among universities that have joined an effort to eliminate waste by limiting use of plastic straws and plastic bags.

The banning of plastic straws at many coffee shops and bars has become increasingly popular due to awareness of limiting waste. Starbucks, as one example, has cut out serving cold drinks with straws at many of its location around the world, and will be completely straw free by 2020, according to a company press release.

Many hotels, resorts, bars and schools have followed Starbucks’ lead, including many of the UW campuses. UWRF cut down on the use of plastic straws and plastic bags through its Dining Services at the beginning of the fall semester.

Although plastic bags are no longer being used on campus, straws are still available upon request. Compostable straws have been put in place of the plastic straws in most areas of Dining Services.

Franchised eateries in the University Center, like Einstein Bros Bagels and Erbert and Gerbert’s Bistro, have not made the transition away from plastic straws yet because they must follow their own franchise guidelines, which still use straws.

Einstein and Erbert and Gerbert’s are still very new in the process of switching over to being straw-less. Because they are much smaller than companies such as Starbucks, the transition may take longer, say their customer service representatives. Employees of both companies say the transition should happen in the next few years.

Sue Boettcher, the senior director of Dining Services at UWRF, said that the transition from the usage of plastic to paper has been surprisingly smooth with the students and staff.

“I think it’s been embraced really well,” she said. “A lot of people don’t request straws. We haven’t had a lot of concerns brought to us over the straws.”

Since the cost of paper is significantly more than the cost of plastic eating and drinking utensils, Boettcher said that it has been harder to find the most wallet-friendly option especially when ordering in large quantities.

“The straws, it’s an in-demand item now, the compostable ones, so we just have to source the best product we can. But given that we’ve also seen a lot less usage… helps balance it out.”

Students who use Dining Services say they have noticed the disappearance of straws on their lunch and dinner breaks, but it is nothing that makes a big difference in the quality of their food and service.

Dairy science sophomore Alyssa Seitz said that this is a good effort that the university is taking toward being more sustainable. There are some flaws in the switch that she said may need to be thought through more.

“I’ve noticed that the bags to carry things in at the C-Store have changed to paper, which is great, but the bags are fairly small so it makes it harder to fit things into them,” Seitz said. “Maybe getting bigger bags would be more beneficial and functional for students.”