Chartwells introduces new PLA straws at Renaissance College in an attempt to become more sustainable.

Written by Chung Yi Hung

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At the beginning of the academic school year, Chartwells, the caterer at Renaissance College, began the implementation of new straws composed of polylactic acid (PLA) as an alternative to plastic straws. The addition of the new straws started as a joint initiative between Chartwells and the RCHK Sustainability Team to reduce the school’s environmental impact by decreasing the amount of plastic consumed.

Taylor Chung, one of the heads of the Sustainability Team said that “plastic straws impact the environment negatively,” explaining that the new straws would be sourced from a company that “creates them out of materials like potato starch or grain stalks that aren’t needed.” The decision to shift towards PLA straws was influenced by the fact that plastic straws are highly detrimental to the environment, significantly contributing to environmental degradation.

According to research conducted by the Freedonia Group, on average, Americans use around 390,000,000 plastic straws daily, many of which end up in the ocean. The rapid consumption of single-use straws poses a considerable threat to marine life, as it contributes to accidental plastic ingestion, leading to the deaths of over 100,000 marine animals and 1,000,000 seabirds every year.

Recently, people have become progressively aware of the impact of their consumer choices, with many students such as Latifah Marafa being supportive of the new initiative. After realizing the negative implications that came from using plastic straws, she “started using metal straws a few months ago,” and that she is “glad that our school is moving towards becoming a more sustainable community by decreasing our plastic footprint.”

The use of reusable straws made out of materials such as glass or metal can substantially decrease your impact on the environment. Moreover, disposable alternatives such as PLA or paper straws can also be used to minimize your impact on the environment, but are not as effective.

The transition from using plastic straws to PLA straws has been a success as students generally do not oppose the change as they believe they are more sustainable. However, a student Ankita Joshi thinks that “if we want to be more sustainable, we should be trying to eliminate the use of disposable straws, as we are still producing waste.” This opens up the discussion as to whether or not PLA straws are actually improving the sustainability of the school.

PLA is derived from corn starch or sugarcane that is manufactured into polylactic acid using renewable sources. The manufacturing method of the PLA allows it to be a biodegradable material, making it a good alternative to plastic, as plastic photodegrades, breaking down into smaller fragments over a long period

of time rather than fully decomposing. Nevertheless, PLA can only be composted under peculiar conditions. Thus the majority of straws end up in landfills, resulting in the increase of waste in the world.

In addition, the appearance of the new straws looks similar to the ones that Chartwells has previously supplied, both being black in colour and around the same size. This meant that a large number of students were not aware of the change in the first place. Long Yin Ho, a student who frequently eats at the school cafe, said that, “I didn’t even realize they changed the straws, I thought they were made out of plastic.”

To further encourage sustainability, posters promoting a straw free cafe have been placed around the cafe, situating in areas where students typically wait for their food. These posters raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution while discouraging the use of disposable plastic. Gabriel Tan, a student, stated that “I get bored when I’m waiting for my food to come, so I read the posters on the wall.” The posters have motivated him to start being more sustainable and he has since started to “try not to purchase items made out of single-use plastic.”

Chartwells continues to work with the RCHK Sustainability Team to implement new measures in order to help sustain and protect the environment