Universities in the United States are busy working to End Plastic Pollution. This is part of a National Contest encouraging students to gather the maximum number of pledges from their campuses to Kick the Straw. Students at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia recently became champions of this nationwide Pledge Against Plastic Straws Campus Challenge 2019.
The contest is organized by Simply Straws, a California based company that sells reusable straws. It encourages college campuses to end the use of plastic straws. Longwood collected 878 pledges from students, staff and the local community to Kick the Straw habit and stop using plastic straws. This made Longwood ahead of 71 other institutions participating in the national competition.
Indiana State came in second place and other Virginia schools also participated such as Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University who came in sixth place. Longwood attributes their win to employing the psychology of human behavior change to sustainability issues.
The development of the campaign was supported by a grant to Clean Virginia Waterways (CVW) from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, housed in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Nine student clubs and organizations devoted time and energy to the campaign including the Cormier Honors College, Alpha Lambda Delta, the Office Sustainability, the Environmental and Wildlife clubs and the SGA.
“We underestimate the power of one person promising to another person, ‘Yes I’ll commit to using this resource in a more sustainable way,’” says Dr. Justin Ellis an honors faculty scholar and assistant director of CVW who advised students in the campaign.
Plastic straws entered the national spotlight in recent years with mounting concerns about the harms of single use plastics, especially their accumulation in waterways and the ocean where they are mistakenly ingested as food by marine animals. Plastic straws represent a good starting point in reducing plastic use as they are relatively easy to give up.
“For behaviors to change quickly, you need others willing to do it with you, and you need to evaluate and adjust to insure that the barriers to adopting more sustainable behaviors are steadily removed,” says Ellis. “The great thing about students leading the change is it influences other businesses and institutions.”
Starting in Fall 2019, Longwood’s dining service provider, Aramark has committed to provide reusable metal straws to all incoming Freshman. “We hope that by seeing so many students around campus with metal straws, this will make others consider, ‘should I be using a metal straw too?’” says Grant Avent, Senior Director of Longwood Dining Services.