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Memorial Union switches to paper straws as part of ASU's Zero Waste initiative

Many students had lackluster responses to the change but support it nonetheless

paper straws mu.jpg
A photo illustration of an ASU student using a paper straw in the Memorial Union in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

The Memorial Union at ASU switched from plastic to paper straws this semester as part of ASU’s ongoing sustainability efforts. 

Kellie Cloud, executive director of Educational Outreach and Student Services, said in an email statement that this change is a part of ASU’s broader dedication to sustainability. 

“We make decisions every day that has significant impact on our environment," Cloud said in the email. "Sun Devil Dining is committed to stop waste before it is generated. This commitment is in alignment with ASU’s sustainability goals and vision of creating a circular resource system with a 90% waste diversion by 2025 and our goal of zero waste.”

Cloud said ASU staff aims to transition every retail location on campus to paper straws by Earth Day on April 22 of this year. This year is significant because it is Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.

Director of ASU Facilities Management Alana Levine said in an email statement that ASU’s “circular resource system” helps them achieve their zero waste goals.

“ASU’s circular resource system achieves Zero Waste by adapting the goods we consume to maximize their use before sending them back into the economy for the most productive use possible,” Levine said in an email. 

Although most students supported the change, they generally did not seem to notice the difference. 

Daniel O'Hara, a sophomore Asian languages major, did not see a difference when the switch was made but heard about it through his family.

"If people hadn't complained about it, I wouldn't have even known," O'Hara said.

However, many students think the adjustment period will be worth the decrease in waste. 

Senior business major Dara Simanovsky said she thinks the change is ultimately good for the environment, though it may come with initial pushback.

"I like the paper straws," Simanovsky said. "They do get soggy but that's okay, just drink your drink faster."

ASU’s Zero Waste initiative is an ongoing effort to eliminate solid waste on campus. Cloud said the on-campus restaurant Engrained Cafe led the change by switching to paper straws in the fall 2019 semester. 

Raja Harsha, a master's student in electrical engineering, said the change is part of a global wave of plastic use reduction. Harsha welcomed the new straws but said more should be done to reduce waste locally.

"I feel like people must ban plastic bags from even the department stores that we're going to," Harsha said. "Make sure that you're carrying your own bags or something like that."

The switch to paper straws is not the University's first environmentally-minded change. In 2018, ASU’s football stadium switched from plastic plates and utensils to palm leaf products and changed their policy about plastic straws and lids, Levine said. 

“During the 2018 football season, 124,000 straws and 54,000 lids were prevented from going to landfill by only providing those items upon request,” Levine said in an email.

Levine said ASU staff will host future campaigns and changes to help reduce waste on campus.

“ASU is committed to a more sustainable and resilient future through our multi-faceted approach and coordination across the University," Levine said.

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