There should be a lot fewer plastic straws in use on Longwood’s campus next year as students and others make good on their pledge to eliminate the single-use plastic items from the environment. In fact, so many students pledged to give up plastic straws that Longwood won a national contest promoting that goal.
It all started in the spring semester with the Kick the Straw campaign led by Longwood’s Clean Virginia Waterways (CVW) in partnership with nine student organizations. Students and others were asked to pledge to stop using plastic straws, which consistently rank in the top 10 of water-based debris and are dangerous to marine animals, who mistake them for food.
'Our goal was to elevate Longwood as a national leader in sustainability.'DR. JUSTIN ELLIS, HONORS FACULTY SCHOLAR
Longwood then signed up for the national Pledge Against Plastic Straws Campus Challenge 2019 sponsored by Simply Straws, beating out 71 other institutions for first place with pledges from 878 members of the Longwood community.
“The campus became engaged not just in the straws campaign but in the issue of plastic pollution,” said Kayla Lehman ’19, a graduating senior and president of the Environmental Club, one of the student organizations involved in the Kick the Straw campaign. “It was a launching pad for people to think about sustainability.”
The campaign was directed by Dr. Justin Ellis, CVW’s assistant director and an Honors Faculty Scholar in the Cormier Honors College. “Our goal was to elevate Longwood as a national leader in sustainability,” said Ellis. “We asked students to start with a small commitment— living without plastic straws—which can lead to bigger commitments and a willingness to make sustainability a part of their lives.”
Reusable metal straws, courtesy of CVW and Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program, were given to anyone taking the pledge. Beginning this fall, Aramark, the campus dining service, will give a metal straw to every incoming freshman. Anyone who presents a metal straw when purchasing a drink at an Aramark retail outlet will receive a discount. Aramark also will continue to ask students to take the pledge.
An essential part of the anti-plastic straw initiative was developing a program that could be replicated at other universities, said Ellis. Longwood shared its strategies with students at VCU and George Mason, who implemented the campaign, and hopes to spread the campaign to other schools, he said.