This is the last straw

A metal straw being used as an alternative to a plastic straw. 

With the rise of climate change, eco-friendly trends such as reusable straws have surfaced around campus to help put an end to our deteriorating ecosystem. The elimination of this single-use plastic alone contributes to the decrease in pollution, however, there is additional information Pirate Nation needs to become aware about when making the choice to create a better Earth.

Multiple organizations on campus have already started working toward spreading the word about eco-friendly alternatives to help decrease the 26.8 million tons of trash that goes into landfills each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Senior business management major and zero waster Ayden Larabee recently joined ECO Pirates, a student-led organization at East Carolina that spreads sustainability and environmental awareness, to find a group of “like minded students” to expand on her knowledge of eliminating plastic use out of her lifestyle and find ways to help the Earth.

Larabee said she believes the trend of reusable straws started when people noticed the increase in harm toward sea animals. With anywhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, according to the journal Science in 2015, Larabee’s assumption is proven to be true.

“I think it started when people started realizing about all the (sea) animals that have started washing up and are being found (on land),” Larabee said. “People are trying to dig into what is actually happening to them, and then they find in their intestines (there are) blockages and its plastic.”

Additionally, Larabee said a majority of materials found in sea animal intestines are normally plastic straws because they are easy to consume and float along the water giving the image of a fish, which plenty of animals hope to enjoy as food.

For those who desire to use a straw on a regular basis or for those who need a straw for medical reasons, Larabee suggests looking into metal, bamboo, wooden or silicone straws to help eliminate the use of this single use plastic.

“I’ll be the first to say, the paper straws can be really annoying, but they’re nice because they’re compostable and they’re not toxic, but there are other alternatives for people who can’t stand them like the metal straws and bamboo or wooden straws people can use and they even have some silicone ones,” Larabee said.

Freshman public health major Jodi Quemelen also recently joined ECO Pirates in hope to find a community that shared her passion for making the Earth a better planet. Since they cannot be recycled, Quimelen said the majority of pollution that comes from using plastic straws deals with the microplastics they produce, which ultimately end up in drainage systems and soil leading into our agriculture.

“When the straw was first invented they were all made of paper, and then for single use only they started making it out of polyproline plastic, which takes about 200 years to break down and when it does finally start to break down, it breaks into these little particles or microplastics,” Quemelen said.

With the microplastics leading into our agriculture and into the drainage systems, which eventually leads into the food and fish we eat, Quemelen believes there should be a concern around what food is considered safe. Eventually with this breakdown of microplastics, we as humans will ingest them as well.

As for plastic straw use on campus, ECU Sustainability Manager Chad Carwein said he has had multiple conversations with ECU Dining Services and Aramark, ECU’s food service provider, to work toward eco-friendly alternatives for students.

“We have not really approached the topic of a ban, like a single-use plastic ban, whether that's bags straws or bottles,” Carwein said. “We are trying to work with the outlets to come up with eco-friendly alternatives and to try to change their practices.”

Carwein has collaborated with Aramark to adopt these practices at on-campus locations, such as Panda Express or Subway, including asking students if they need a bag for their items instead of putting products in one automatically. With the suitability program being so young at ECU, they are looking more toward alternatives rather than bans for the products of eating establishments, according to Carwein.

When it comes to tabling events on campus, Carwein said without naming specifics, a handful of organizations have reached out to him for eco-friendly promotional products instead of t-shirts and useless products.

Besides using the reusable water bottle stations around campus and practicing proper recycling, Carwein recommends students to try to eat less meat during meals to help reduce their carbon footprint, an individual's greenhouse gas emission.

“Consume less meat, you taking a look at your own diet and even if it's one meal a week or one meal a day, Americans in general have always associated a proper meal with having some sort of meat component to it,” Carwein said. “So maybe one dinner a week or trying to cut meat out of your lunch can result in a huge reduction in your own carbon footprint.”

Though there are multiple single use plastics we can and should work to eliminate, including toothbrushes, ziplock bags, grocery bags and food wrappers, 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the Earth’s beaches, according to National Geographic. Eventually, there won’t be any beaches left to pollute, eventually plastic will take over the Earth.

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