“We are in the process of finding a replacement straw, which we plan to roll out within a few months,” she said.
Vivian Le, a sophomore cultural studies major and sustainability minor at UNC, said she thinks the movement has gained so much momentum because of the way it’s advertised.
“The pictures you see — a straw and a tiny, cute, little animal — they make it really striking,” she said. “The way it’s being portrayed is hitting people’s emotions more. Straws with cute, little animals – nobody wants to hurt that. Before, it was just an environmental thing, so people didn’t really care as much.”
Le said she thinks UNC is doing a good job reducing plastic waste, but there’s always room for improvement.
“I think we could do a little better by making straws less accessible – people grab them because of the convenience,” she said. “If they were behind the counter and you had to ask for it, I think less people would use straws.”
Olivia James, spokesperson for Campus Enterprises at UNC, said the Sustainability Office and Carolina Dining Services work closely to reduce the use of single-use plastic.
“This fall, almost everything at Mainstreet in Lenoir and the Beach will be compostable,” she said in an email. “This includes clamshells, cups, lids, straws, napkins and utensils.”
Tania Dautlick, executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful, which is a nonprofit focused on litter prevention, waste reduction and community greening, said getting restaurants involved is critical because it raises awareness and reaches people who might not be aware a problem exists with straws.
“In reality, we’re trying to avoid all single-use plastic as much as possible and focus on either doing without a piece of plastic or finding a reusable alternative,” Dautlick said.
There’s been a lot of positive interest from those who want to make the change, said Dautlick, but some are more hesitant than others.
“People are creatures of habit,” she said. “They sometimes enjoy drinking from a straw, and it can be a little bit more expensive to use a reusable or paper straw. One of the easier things restaurants can do is not automatically put it in the drink and wait for the customer to ask for the straw.”
Dautlick said it’s really exciting and heartwarming to see interest from students and the North Carolina community in making a difference.
“The straws are not the only problem,” she said. “But it’s one small change that people can make that usually isn’t too much effort, starts the conversation and helps people become aware of the issue.”