The Last Straw? Loudoun Businesses, Schools Join Campaign to Ditch Plastic

Businesses, schools and even Northern Virginia’s largest hospital system are among those pointing to science and the environment in their decisions to eliminate the use of plastic drinking straws.

In recent months, international corporations, like Starbucks and the Walt Disney Company, became some of the latest to announce their intentions to eliminate plastic drinking straws. They join others, including leaders in several large U.S. cities, who have decided they want to do what they can to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. Some of these cities have banned the use of plastic drinking straws altogether.

Many point to scientific claims, up for debate, that by 2050 plastics in the oceans will outnumber marine life. Straws are thought by some not to be the end game in eliminating plastic pollution, but a small step in changing habits and lessening the use of plastics altogether. Since plastic is not biodegradable and does not decompose quickly, it tends to often end up in landfills or the ocean. With China’s recent announcement that it will ban the import of non-industrial plastic waste, both the U.S. and many businesses and organizations may have to get used to creative recycling solutions.

Locally, King Street Oyster Bar, with locations in Leesburg and Middleburg, is among the first of Loudoun’s small businesses to publicly announce the eliminated the use of plastic drinking straws in its restaurants. It’s all about another way to give back to the ocean, owner Rick Allison said. The restaurants also participate in an oyster shell recycling program through the Oyster Recovery Project based out of Annapolis, MD.

“I just think we need to do our part as a restaurant, in general,” Allison said. “Hopefully, we can start a trend.”

Loudoun County Public Schools has also taken steps to reduce the use of straws in its cafeterias. In the county’s middle and high schools, straws are available only by request, noted Leigh Anne Critzer of LCPS’ School Nutrition Services. Just by making the straws available by request only, Critzer said the school system expects to use 600,000 fewer straws by the end of the school year. Straws are still provided—without request—to all elementary and special education students. They also still are provided with smoothies.

“When we look at ways we can make choices that better support our initiatives, and that’s LCPS-wide, it is a financial benefit, but that’s not the impetus—just a byproduct, really,” she said. “When you see the number 600,000 it really brings to light something people don’t think about and it ties into the non-necessity of the item.”

Inova Health System is using America Recycles Day on Nov. 15 to eliminate plastic straws in its public areas, such as cafeterias and gift shops, in all five hospitals in the system. Eventually, that will be rolled out to include its patient areas, according to Seema Wadhwa, assistant vice president of Inova’s Sustainability and Wellness. A straw made with alternative, biodegradable material will still be made available for anyone with a medical need for straws.

The impact of Inova’s elimination of straws alone leaves a mark. Wadhwa notes that the hospital system currently goes through one mile of straws per day, for a total of 3 million straws annually.

Wadhwa said focusing on the health of the environment has a direct correlation to taking care of one’s own health. Eliminating straws is an example that “the smallest decision can make a big impact.” She said the hospital system is hoping others follow suit.

“Our approach has always been to make an impact,” she said, “but also leading the conversation and engaging stakeholders. We believe it’s important to engage by starting the conversation.”

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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