By Morgan Politzer
The University of Maryland chapter of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance and students in the Public Leadership Scholars program started a campaign to create a campus-wide ban on plastic straws.
The SOA chapter at UMD was co-founded by sophomore environmental science politics and policy and Spanish double major Lillian Wessel as a part of her capstone for the Public Leadership Scholars program.
“Although you can’t really see the effects on campus, we found that 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone. We see a lot of people using plastic straws on campus, so we thought that we would start small and make a change that we thought could be possible,” Wessel said.
The group has passed out reusable straws made from aluminum to help students avoid plastic ones.
“I was in Starbucks yesterday and I saw someone using one of the metal straws we handed out in their cup, which was amazing,” Wessel said.
“We’re trying to really reduce the use of plastic straws, specifically in exchange for stainless straws that won’t affect the environment,” said freshman atmospheric and oceanic science major and SOA Head of Event Planning Alex Stocksdale.
The SOA hopes to have the ban passed and implemented by the end of May 2018.
Students at the head of the campaign began a petition to bring awareness to plastic pollution and ban plastic straws on campus. The petition currently has over 600 signatures.
While banning plastic straws is the group’s main goal, they hope to influence policy as well. The group hopes that implementing positive reinforcement when the stainless aluminum straws are used and working with the vendors in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union will help stop the use of plastic straws.
The campaign officially kicked off at the start of the spring semester as the issue picked up traction around the world. A ban on plastic straws will go into effect in Seattle this summer, and the Queen of England has banned plastic straws from all royal estates, Stocksdale said.
The Public Leadership Scholars Director, Associate Clinical Professor Susannah Washburn, helped oversee the campaign’s creation.
“One of the reasons I really encouraged them to run with this idea is that one of the things we try to teach through the program is just because you can’t do everything, you can’t save every issue in the world, doesn’t mean that you should do nothing. Don’t underestimate the power of little things,” Washburn said.
Although a majority of straws end up in landfills, many end up in waterways and become part of floating trash piles in the ocean, according to Wessel and Stocksdale. In 2015, a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nasal cavity went viral. Animals are often the victims when these floating islands full of trash and plastic appear in the ocean, according to Dr. Caroline Boules, a lecturer at this university.
“It excites me, as someone who is all about education and telling students not that they’re the leaders of the future but that they are the leaders now, to see young people really making an impact,” Washburn said.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article contained a factual error, which stated that a ban on plastic straws was in effect in California and Seattle. In California, a bill has been proposed that would make plastic straws only available by request, and in Seattle, a ban will go into effect in the summer of 2018. The article also contained a reporting error that the group had canvassed around campus, and that the petition would be sent to the Sustainability Office at the university, which the group has said they cannot confirm because they are not sure where the petition will go once it has over 1000 signatures. The article has been updated.