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'If you don't need it, don't take it': Businesses, schools join trend to eliminate plastic straws

Cities across the Unites States have started to prohibit or limit use of plastic straws in restaurants. In Centre County, some businesses and schools are joining the trend.
Cities across the Unites States have started to prohibit or limit use of plastic straws in restaurants. In Centre County, some businesses and schools are joining the trend. Associated Press

Plastic straws may soon be a thing of the past.

The European Commission recently proposed a ban on single-use plastic items. Cities across the Unites States have started to prohibit or limit use of plastic straws in restaurants. In Centre County, some businesses and schools are joining the trend.

Americans use more than 500 million plastic straws every day, and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, according to nonprofit Lonely Whale, which started the Strawless Ocean campaign.

"Plastic straws are not recyclable, so what we're advising people to do is just not take them," said Joanne Shafer, deputy executive director of the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.

Single-use plastic straws actually "contaminate" recyclable items, such as bottles, when they are left in them and render those items non-recyclable, Shafer said.

The authority doesn't have the wherewithal to be able to go through and pull out all the straws, so those contaminated plastic bottles or containers are thrown away, she said.

"Reduction is always the best path," Shafer said. "If you don't need it, don't take it."

In an effort to reduce waste, State College Area School District recently decided to eliminate plastic straws in all school cafeterias.

However, district spokesman Chris Rosenblum said plastic straws are still available to students with special needs who require them.

“As a part of the planning process for the new high school food court, and in part from feedback from our high school customers, we reviewed the amount and types of plastic disposables used in the service of school meals. In instances where recycling was not an option, we looked for ways to minimize the amount of plastic waste," Food Service Director Megan Schaper said in a letter to parents earlier this month.

"Currently, we are providing ‘real’ plates and silverware instead of disposables. In many instances where a disposable is needed, we've switched to compostable paper plates and bowls. Our conversations and research led us to make the decision to eliminate the use of plastic straws altogether.”

Schaper also said that paper straws are not a cost-effective substitute.

The Naked Egg Cafe in Pine Grove Mills has switched to paper straws and started using wooden to-go utensils instead of plastic to be more environmentally friendly, employee Caitlin McKenna said.

"People really appreciate it, we haven't had any complaints at all," she said.

Mad Mex restaurants across the country, including the State College location, stopped automatically handing out plastic straws to customers in March, according to Fernando Lemus, State College assistant manager.

However, they are still available upon request, Lemus said.

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