College News

Banning straws leads the way in UW System schools sustainability efforts

Universities across the state are looking to decrease plastic products on campus, beginning with banning straws.

Universities across the state are looking to decrease plastic products on campus, beginning with banning straws.

Image By: Téalin Robinson

For some universities throughout Wisconsin, diligent efforts have been made to increase recycling and sustainability efforts on campus.

The goal for many students is to avoid using plastic products — ranging from straws to silverware — on a daily basis.

Some UW System schools have stepped away from offering plastic straws. Over the summer, UW-La Crosse announced the removal of plastic straws from all dining halls on campus.

Plastic straws are still available if requested, but the goal is to shift students away from single-use plastic and into reusable products, including stainless steel straws, according to University Centers Director Larry Ringgenberg.

Similarly, UW-Madison's plan to ban straws on campus has gained momentum.

“Not only do single-use plastics generate unnecessary waste in our landfills, but they also end up in our waterways and pose major threats to oceanic life,” Associated Students of Madison Sustainability Committee Chair Katie Piel said.

Dining halls throughout UW-Madison’s campus began offering reusable to-go containers instead of disposable containers for all carryout meals as part of the Ticket to Take Out program this fall.

Students who take part in the university meal plan receive a container token. When they are finished with their meals, students return their clean containers to a vending machine in the dining halls and receive a new meal token.

In 2017, the Office of Sustainability conducted a waste audit to look into how waste is managed within the dining halls. Among the results, they found that 28 percent of the recycling should have gone in the trash.

“We found many of the compostable to-go containers in the trash bins,” said Ally Burg, the student programs assistant at the Office of Sustainability. “Contamination of recycling with trash and other compostable items causes otherwise valuable items to be sent to the landfill.”

These small efforts have played a significant role in combating climate change. However, the discussion among gubernatorial and Senate candidates on climate change has become an “afterthought” on the campaign trail, according to Paul Robbins, director of UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Through ASM, the sustainability committee has been involved in leading environmentally-friendly efforts on campus, including a sustainability course requirement and meatless options for dining halls.

“It’s important for UW-Madison to fulfill their promise of resource stewardship by taking this first step and banning plastic straws, enacting long-lasting behavior change in students and joining institutions across the country in protecting our environment,” Piel said.

Banning plastic products will be one of the discussions at the UW System Sustainability Conference on Nov. 9.

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