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Elimination of plastic straws and shopping bags at U of G almost complete

The change will divert an estimated 175,000 straws and 155,000 plastic bags from the landfill each year
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(stock photo)

Eliminating single-use plastic straws and shopping bags at most of the restaurants and shops on the Uof G campus was easy, says Mark Kenny, procurement manager for Hospitality Services at the university. "We just stopped buying them.”

Hospitality Services announced the elimination of single-use straws and plastic bags last March during sustainability week on campus. A commitment was made to remove all single-use straws by Aug. 1.

“We pretty much took them out right away," said Kenny.

The change at 17 of 22 food service locations on campus will divert an estimated 175,000 straws and 155,000 plastic bags from the landfill each year, said Kenny.

That number is expected to increase dramatically if and when its franchise partners, including Tim Hortons, Booster Juice and Starbucks, buy into the concept.

"I know a lot of them have come forward, like Starbucks recently, to announce they are getting rid of straws as well, but not for a couple of years," said Kenny. "We are going to push them to eliminate them on campus as soon as we can.”

Kenny said Hospitality Service keeps some paper straws on hand at its food service locations by request only.

"A couple of people have mentioned for mobility reasons they require a straw, so we said that is fine, we will have some paper straws available," said Kenny.

An advocacy group called Plastic Free Guelph will present a plan to ban single-use plastic bags and straws at a city council meeting later this month. Kenny said he was not aware of that movement at the time the decision was made on campus. 

“I know it’s the big movement that’s going on right now, but for us it was a simple thing to do that makes a big impact," he said.

The elimination of single use plastic straws and shopping bags on campus was born from an unrelated conversation about composting, not through protest or boycotts, said Kenny.

“We work with students and student groups on a lot of initiatives," said Kenny. "It wasn’t really a hard thing for us to do at all, we just decided we will do it."

Kenny said there hasn't been any negative feedback so far.

"Everybody seems pretty positive about the whole change," he said.

Hospitality Services had already made a change to biodegradable shopping bags, but decided to take it one step further by switching to paper.

“It’s more about not having waste at all, although when you are shopping students still need something to carry things with, so paper seems to be the best solution,” said Kenny.

Hospitality Services has a very small amount of inventory of the old bags to use, but Kenny expects to be fully switched over in the near future.

The conversation about expanding composting options on campus continues, said Kenny, but that decision will require funding for equipment, staff, etc.

"It's a big process," said Kenny. “Sometimes it happens in an instant — like the straw thing — and sometimes it can take a couple of years."