By Kourtney Husnick
Taking a glance over the crowd at the Viking Marketplace, something is different. In front of almost every student, there is a cup without a straw.
Starting Nov. 5, Cleveland State University’s Dining Services stopped leaving bins of plastic straws out for students to grab as they please. Instead, students who want a straw may request one from behind the counter at the dining hall and retail dining locations on campus. Straws are only given automatically with the purchase of a smoothie or frozen coffee at Fenn Shoppe, Viking Grounds and Business Perks, according to a Cleveland State news release.
“We still have them,” Chris Hall, the marketing and communications manager for Dining Services, said. “You can get [a straw] if you want one. We’re not going to straw shame you.”
With straw bans and changes becoming increasingly more common across the country, the new ask-if-you-need-it system keeps straws available for those who need them, rather than those who grab a straw purely out of habit.
The change in straw distribution was a quick transition. The announcement that “straws will now only be available per request to best accommodate all students through this change” was made the day of the change, with no prior announcements or advertising. On Nov. 4, the bins of straws were out and readily available. The next day, signs from Chartwells — the company that runs Cleveland State Dining and 279 other university dining programs, according to their website — were sitting in their place.
For the first couple days, Hall explained that staff was often asked, “Where are the straws?” But after about two days of confusion, it seemed like students started to understand.
“It’s something to get used to,” Hall said, comparing the change to putting on a seatbelt. It’s an adjustment that he and Jennifer McMillen, the Cleveland State Director of Sustainability, hope becomes a natural habit.
Aside from that confusion, student responses have been limited, according to Hall. The only announcements made at the time of the change occurred on the Dining Services Twitter and Facebook accounts, and no comments were made on any of the posts.
“The only reactions I really saw were some likes on social media,” Hall said.
The Cauldron’s attempts to get feedback had a similar result with only 16 votes in an online poll and no one expanding upon their opinions with a response.
Regardless of the few recent responses, concerns about straws in the dining locations on campus existed long before the change.
“We actually received an email from a faculty member [about this initiative] 18 months ago,” Hall said.
Discussions about how to make a transition from the old procedure have come up since that first email, and when McMillen reached out this October, it didn’t take long for a new system to be put in place.
Additionally, Cleveland State is not alone in making this adjustment. The university joined several other universities across the country and a growing list of locations in Cleveland that do not offer straws automatically.
In Cleveland, the “Skip the Straw” campaign was kickstarted by Sustainable Cleveland, described as a community, resource and 10-year initiative administrated by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability on their website.
“Skip the Straw simply requests that restaurants refrain from automatically putting a plastic disposable straw in each beverage, but rather allow customers to request a straw if they so desire,” Sustainable Cleveland’s Skip the Straw webpage explains. “Often, customers are content without a straw. Customers can do their part by only requesting a straw when absolutely necessary.”
Participating establishments include Yours Truly, the House of Blues, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and many others across the area.
Cleveland State is also not the first university in Cleveland to join the campaign. Case Western Reserve University’s onsite food management company, Bon Appetit Management Company, banned plastic straws entirely across all of their accounts in May, according to the Case Office of Sustainability website. The university is currently trying to find a paper straw alternative “for those with medical needs or a strong preference for straws.”
Cleveland State’s changes do not currently include changing the straws behind the counter from a plastic to a compostable option.
“I don’t know how long [a paper straw] would last,” Hall said when asked about potentially switching products.
In that dual interview with Hall and McMillen, McMillen explained different compostable options, answering Hall’s concerns regarding paper straw durability. She also mentioned that the company Chartwells purchases from carries a corn-based plastic straw product similar to the cups used when Dining Services handles catering.
Cost also played a part in the uncertainty. The price of plastic straws are extremely low, and compostable options tend to come at a higher rate. Hall compared this to gluten-free options, explaining that the Marketplace carries items like gluten-free bread, but they don’t want to keep “a $9 loaf of bread” out for people who don’t need it.
“It’s always a battle of cost versus demand versus impact,” Hall said.
Instead, the focus lies with minimizing how many plastic straws are used on campus and potentially ending up in our waterways.
While there is not an estimate for how much straw use has decreased at Cleveland State since the change was made, Dining Services implemented the initiative “to reduce the amount of plastic and single-use waste generated on campus,” according to their news release.