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The Orion

Chico State and local businesses take the Strawless Challenge

Sophia Graves believes that all Chico State students should take the strawless challenge. Photo credit: Rachael Bayuk

An estimated 500 million straws are used daily in the United States and the majority of those end up in various oceans. On April 23, Chico State will be officially be taking the strawless challenge in an effort to bring awareness to the plastic straw waste problem and to reduce the amount of plastic used on campus.

The Strawless Challenge’s creation

Sophia Graves, a freshman business management major, is an intern at the Sustainability Management Association and is the project manager of the Strawless Challenge for the city of Chico.

Sophia Graves is leading the Strawless Campaign by challenging Chico State and local businesses to stop using plastic straws. Photo credit: Rachael Bayuk

According to Graves, the campaign in Chico was started by Linda Storey, the owner of Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Q, who was impacted by a video shared on Facebook of a turtle with plastic stuck in its nose. The turtle was rescued by a few marine biologists and they painfully removed a plastic straw from the turtle’s nose.

“(Storey) realized that as a restaurant owner, she could do something about it. So she met up with Angela Casler, a business instructor here at Chico State who is a part of the Sustainability Management Association and that’s how I got started interning for Angela. She gave this project to me,” Graves said.

Graves also said that Chico’s sustainability reputation helped the group start this challenge with local businesses.

“We created a founding team of different businesses in Chico that would be interested in supporting us and helping us in any way that we might need,” Graves said.

The founding team:

  • Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Que
  • Bacio catering
  • Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA)
  • Klean Kanteen
  • Chico Bag
  • City of Chico
  • Neal Road Recycling Facility
  • Northern Recycling Waste Services
  • Recology
  • Waste Management
  • Norcal Food Equipment
  • Sustainability Management Association interns

Graves said that after meetings with these organizations the interns made posters, invited people to take the challenge and began helping participants implement replacement straws into their businesses.

What are businesses and people doing to help?

“There are two parts to this, one as a customer and one as a restaurant owner. We will be going around to different restaurants in the city and meeting with managers and owners about ditching plastic straws,” Graves said. “If you do want to give out straws, use Eco-friendly ones like Aardvark paper, bamboo, or Klean Kanteen straws.”

Part of the problem is that people think plastic straws can be recycled, but they cannot according to Graves. The straws are too small so they get sucked up in the industrial composter and end up in the landfill.

“We can do something about this. Straws are so small and insignificant in our life. People might think ‘Its just a straw,’ but with 7 billion people on the planet, a huge amount of plastic ends up in the ocean or the environment,” Graves said.

Graves along with other SMA interns are encouraging restaurant customers to say no to plastic straws. Graves added that using plastic straws is a common consumer habit so she wants people to sign up and take the challenge so that SMA can have metrics on the effect of the Strawless Campaign.

“If people aren’t signing up, then we can’t measure our diversion rate. So it’s really important that people take the challenge,” Graves said.

Plastic straw alternatives:

“Bamboo is one of the most sustainable products on the market right now. It grows to maturity in three to five years,” Graves said. “It’s very sustainable, but the process to make a straw takes up a lot of water. (However), once you have one, you don’t have to replace it.”

Klean kanteen straw on the left and a bamboo straw on the right. Photo credit: Roberto Fonseca

Graves also said Klean Kanteen stainless steel straws, “last forever” and most paper straws are, “very durable.”

Aardvark straws are another alternative to plastic straws Photo credit: Courtesy of Sophia Graves

How has Chico State reacted to the challenge?

Elaine Kramer, the associate dining director for Associated Students, oversees catering, conference services and the retail spaces on campus. Kramer is also in charge of Chico State’s side of the Strawless challenge on campus.

The A.S. Advisory Board meets with several Chico businesses to discuss various events and goals. Kramer brought the idea to this board and the group decided to participate in the Strawless Challenge at Chico State.

According to Graves, 180 people and six businesses have already taken the challenge since the campaign launched on March 28.

Businesses taking the challenge:

  • Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Que (The owner, Linda Storey, initiated this challenge)
  • Bacio Catering
  • Sierra Nevada Brewery
  • Fresh Twisted Cafe
  • Chico State A.S. Dining Services
  • Aonami Sustainable Sushi

The end goals

Straws are kind of the beginning, obviously there’s still plastic to-go ware and plastic lids,” Graves said. “Maybe in a year from now, once a lot of restaurants downtown pick up on the challenge, we do want to move on to all the other plastic things that we’re just used to. Basically changing our consumer habits and culture.”

The "best case scenario" for Elaine Kramer is for people to bring their own sustainable items to school instead of using plastic. Photo credit: Roberto Fonseca

Kramer also added that the end goal is to, “crack the window” of Chico State’s sustainability efforts to shed light on the plastic products used on campus.

“I’m kind of hoping we start with the straw and end up with the cup,” Kramer said “At some point, (we hope) people are bringing their own cups in or (start) buying things that are reusable.”

Roberto Fonseca can be reached at [email protected] or @rjfonseca13 on Twitter.

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    Lori Imhoff // Apr 17, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    I am so very proud of Sophia Graves and her dedication to the Strawless Challenge! Keep on fighting Sophia!