By: Duaa Zaheer
Now Presenting: The “Straw-Free” Marquee (and The Den too!)
When I first started my role as Awareness Coordinator at the Sheridan Student Union, I wanted to ignite real, sustainable change not only within the organization but on campus as well. I did a lot of research, looking up different campaign and initiative ideas that I could implement at Sheridan. And, as I always say, your best ideas come to you when you’re supposed to be doing something else.
One evening, while I was procrastinating on completing my class assignments, I decided to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed and I found this video. A Brooklyn restaurant named FREEHOLD decided to stop using plastic straws when serving drinks to customers. They saved 1.5 million plastic straws yearly from ending up in landfills or the ocean.
Did you know that plastic straws take more than 200 years break down, but never completely biodegrades? Even then, they end up in the ocean and in the food chain. In America, 500 million straws are used daily. It’s an endless cycle of polluting.
The restaurant manager talked to NowThis and mentioned how the transition was “surprisingly smooth”. Most customers didn’t mind not having plastic straws in their drinks every time they ordered something. However, the restaurants kept disposable, paper straws on hand for customers who needed them.This video inspired me to bring this initiative to Sheridan College.
My goal: to replace plastic straws at The Marquee with more sustainable alternatives. For accessibility reasons, I didn’t want to completely ban straws, I just wanted to provide more eco-friendly alternatives.
We have many different food outlets at Sheridan, everything from Tim Hortons to Subway. I knew the easiest way to get this initiative up and running would be to approach food outlets that already value sustainability and environmentally-friendly initiatives and would like to see positive change occur on campus. I set up a meeting with Dan Casey, the manager for all food services at the Sheridan Student Union. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey Dan. I want to get rid of all the plastic straws at The Marquee.
Dan: Sure, let’s do it at The Den too!
Okay, it didn’t go exactly like that, but Dan was definitely on board with the idea. Thus, the “straw-free” initiative was born in July 2017. We started by only giving out straws on a need-basis. All drinks went out without straws and customers had the option to request straws.
In October, Dan sent me an update: “We’ve been pushing the ‘straws upon request initiative through our staff – a few growing pains but the guests are starting to get it." Dan was also looking at alternatives, such as compostable products so that we could eventually replace all straws (and other cutlery) with more environmentally-friendly options. I’ve even visited The Marquee a few times this year and I barely noticed the change.
Let’s jump forward to April 2018. Although plastic straws are still available upon request at The Marquee and The Den, Dan has stated that their straw purchases have reduced significantly. The Marquee employees have also told me that they’ve seen a lot less straw waste after pub nights and events. Dan is still actively seeking out cost-effective compostable alternatives for the food services at the SSU. I want to thank him, as well as all the full-time and part-time staff at The Marquee and The Den for their tremendous support. This would not have been possible without them.
This is my last month as your Awareness Coordinator and I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to pave the way for sustainable change on campus and I hope this initiative lives on and grows even after I’m gone.