Starting in the fall straws will no longer be offered in USC dining halls after a student petition to remove them garnered more than 1,000 signatures in the past month. Plastic straws will still be available to students or guests who request them.
The petition to eliminate straws was started last month by the student club Environmental Core, more commonly known as ECore; the Environmental Student Assembly and the Undergraduate Student Government advocacy branch.
The three groups met with representatives from Residential Dining last week to discuss the removal of plastic straws in dining halls. This marked the first meeting of the “Zero Waste Task Force,” a new group under Residential Dining which includes members from student government and organizations, Residential Dining and USC’s waste hauler Republic.
Erik Russell, the associate director of Residential Dining, created the task force. He said the purpose of the group is to find ways to expand upon sustainability initiatives in dining.
“This is really a chance to work collaboratively with the different stakeholders,” Russell said. “[It gets] the message to the student base that we are taking this seriously, we do see opportunities, we are doing things and we’d like to do more.”
Tianna Shaw-Wakeman, a sophomore majoring in psychology and the director of ECore, said that straws were the primary barrier to dining halls from composting more food waste.
“In conversations we had with different people in [Residential] Dining, we learned that plastic straws were one of the few things in dining that couldn’t be composted and that they were a slight hiccup in getting post-consumer composting in the dining halls,” Shaw-Wakeman said.
She said straws are an easy way to divert waste from going to landfills. The straw ban is also a victory for student activists who may feel like their efforts do not always affect change on campus, Shaw-Wakeman said.
“To see when you work toward something that things can actually change, that’s great because it shows in the future other things are going to change,” she said.
ESA co-director Olivia Pearson, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, said eliminating straws is the beginning of more sustainable dining halls.
“The straw ban in dining halls was just the first step,” Pearson said. “We would like to continue doing other things that show we’re purchasing things with sustainability in mind.”
According to Pearson, more sustainable purchasing practices were mentioned in a letter asking for a sustainable campus sent to University President C. L. Max Nikias Monday on behalf of ESA, USG and ECore. The letter was sent in conjunction with ECore’s “Do Better” rally taking place Friday, which intends to call attention to USC’s shortcomings in sustainability, Pearson said.
“We’re hoping that [Nikias] will hear the students that will come out on Friday,” Pearson said. “Environmental activism starts at this grassroots level and we’re hoping with these small victories we can show that there’s a lot of student interest.”