Dartmouth Dining Services debuts paper straws for sustainability purposes

by Claudia Bernstein | 5/10/18 2:35am

by Michael Lin and Michael Lin / The Dartmouth

Over the past two weeks, students have noticed the disappearance of an important staple at Dartmouth Dining Services locations across campus — plastic straws. Over the past month, DDS has transitioned from the use of standard plastic straws to red-and-white-striped biodegradable paper straws. This transition was spearheaded by associate director of DDS Don Reed, who said the change is part of a larger effort to make DDS as sustainable as possible.

“DDS wants to do the right thing sustainability-wise — it’s a small step but a very important one,” Reed said.

According to Reed, DDS is participating in the Green Restaurants Association, a nonprofit organization that encourages restaurants and dining locations to meet green certification standards. Currently, the association has awarded the Class of 1953 Commons a three-star sustainability certification level and the Courtyard Café two stars, out of an available five, Reed said.

He added that changes such as the transition to paper straws are part of the effort toward gaining a higher certification level and making DDS locations as sustainable as they can be.

According to Reed, he had originally put forth the idea in earlier conversations about how to make DDS more sustainable and the idea was well-received. This past January, he said he consulted DDS’s paper distributor about the possibility of ordering samples of paper straws. As soon as the distributor had samples available in stock this spring, DDS ordered them, Reed said.

Replacement of plastic straws with paper straws at DDS locations has generated discontent among many students.

Geoffrey Huang ’19 said that while the paper straws are certainly more environmentally friendly, they lack the necessary rigidity that traditional plastic straws offer.

“If you sip on it too long, it gets soaking wet — it’s just not as durable,” Huang said. “Sometimes you taste the cardboard when you’re sipping your drink, which is definitely not ideal.”

Eileen Xia ’21 said that while the paper straws are originally fairly rigid, once they are submerged in a drink for a long enough period of time, they start to become soggy and ineffective.

“It’s like eating paper and it’s gross,” Xia said. “If you drink beverages quickly, the sustainability might outweigh the textural difficulties. If you sip slowly, then no.”

According to Huang, some students have been collecting straws from King Arthur Flour — a non-DDS affiliated food location — in order to save them and avoid paper straws provided at DDS locations.

Xia said that DDS should introduce “sippy” lids that do not require straws, which would eliminate the straw controversy altogether.

“I don’t think good straws and sustainability are mutually exclusive — there has to be paper straws out there that don’t melt or taste like cardboard like these do,” Huang said.

Despite the discontent expressed by many students, Reed said that paper straws are here to stay.

“We know that change is difficult to accept,” Reed said. “But every year a new class of students matriculates and regards these things to be the norm.”

In winter 2017, DDS transitioned from individual napkin dispensers on each table in dining locations to larger wall-mounted dispensers. This change evoked a similar dissatisfaction from students.

Reed said that the transition from plastic to paper straws is a “small difference that can be easily absorbed” by students and staff at the College.

“If you really feel that strongly against paper straws, then you should look into other options,” Reed said, adding that perhaps a dislike of paper straws might encourage students to invest in reusable straws.

“It is the right thing for Dartmouth and our larger environment,” DDS food service director Jon Plodzik wrote in an email statement. “I hope others will follow us and eliminate this unnecessary nuisance to beaches and grounds.”

Not all students, however, are critical of the straw change.

“I think the importance of the sustainability of the paper straws outweighs the annoyance caused by the sogginess of the straws,” Lylia Eng ’20 said.

Reed said that while paper straws cost a little more than plastic ones — you can purchase seven plastic straws for every paper straw — the overall cost is so small that the additional cost is easy to justify, especially given DDS’s commitment to ongoing efforts in increasing sustainability. One paper straw costs only two cents, he said.

Reed noted that the transition to paper straws is only one small step in the direction of increased sustainability. According to him, ongoing efforts by DDS to increase environmentalism include expanding the Green-2-Go option to the Courtyard Café, encouraging reusable bags at Collis Market and implementing reusable takeout silverware kits instead of plastic utensils.

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