Two freshmen political science students and the Sierra Club in Vermillion have partnered together to encourage students and community members to use fewer plastic straws.
The two students, Divya Neopaney and Jade MullerSmit, wrote a proclamation to city council to declare Oct. 25 an annual straw-free day in Vermillion. This year, the day will consist of a promotion events at the Vermillion’s farmers’ market from 3-7 p.m.
Susanne Skyrm, a professor emeritus of piano and a member of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization with chapters nationwide, has been a leader of the local straw-free movement. She said students and community members will have the opportunity to pledge straw-free at the Oct. 25 events.
“If you take the pledge to go straw-free on Oct. 25, you can sign up for a raffle to win a metal straw,” Skyrm said. “It’s purely voluntary, if you want to just not use straws on that one particular day, then you can sign up for this raffle and you can feel good about doing something good for the environment, and hopefully that habit will continue.”
In an email interview with The Volante, MullerSmit said the purpose of the day is to primarily raise awareness of their cause.
“For the day itself, we don’t have too much going on, because the idea is to try and get a lot of people to pledge to go straw-free without having to majorly commit to attending anything in particular,” she said. “We thought of the day to educate and inspire, rather than to have yet another function on campus that people need to attend.”
Neopaney also said stickers will be available to those who take the pledge.
A community-wide cause
Neopaney said her and MullerSmit’s project is for a class that focuses on students becoming involved within their community.
“It’s for our American government class, and you have to pick an issue that you care about, and we chose environmental policy,” Neopaney said. “We have to work with organizations outside of campus and do a thing like raise awareness, so we chose environmental policy and then we specifically chose straws.”
Part of the Vermillion’s straw-free movement has been encouraging local business to only serve straws on request.
“So this summer, I went around with a friend from the Sierra Club, and we asked all the restaurants in town if they would agree to serve straws only on request,” Skyrm said. “Some of them were already doing that or said they were, and some of them were receptive to the idea, but they didn’t know how they could work it. Then others were fast food places who couldn’t necessarily do away with straws because their corporate rules say they have to offer straws, and the bars were not very helpful for the most part.”
Skyrm said five businesses, RED’s Steakhouse, Cafe Brule, Dakota Brickhouse, Silk Road and Bru2, agreed to only serve straws on request, although other businesses are still receptive to the movement.
“If you’re eating out at a restaurant here in town, since a lot of them are not doing away with straws, but they are interested in the movement, just ask your server when you’re ordering a drink, ‘no straw.’”
This movement in Vermillion is a part of a larger nationwide movement, Skyrm said.
“There are lots of movements going to reduce the use of plastic, particularly single-use plastic, and I know that there are some organizations like Last Plastic Straw and the Ocean Conservancy, that are all trying to do this, so they’re all working for the same thing,” she said. “We decided to use the Sierra Club as our mouthpiece because we didn’t have any of those other organizations here in town and we thought it would be a good project for us to do.”
Along with talking to local businesses, Neopaney, MullerSmit and Skyrm have created cards that say “Help end plastic pollution, please only serve straws on request” for students to leave on restaurant tables after they have been given a straw and have also created posters to advertise their movement. The group has also tabled in the MUC and had a showing of the documentary “Straws” at the Oct. 16 Sierra Club meeting.
Encouraging sustainable alternatives
Neopaney and Skyrm both said the movement is not trying to ban the use of straws altogether, just reduce the use of plastic straws and encourage the use of more sustainable options.
“We’re just encouraging them to not give out straws, like there are some people who need straws, like people who are handicapped and old people, so we can’t really ban straws or force them to not use straws, we’re just encouraging them not to do this, because it harms the environment in many different ways,” Neopaney said.
Neopaney said she believes students will be receptive to being encouraged to go straw-free.
“I think they should be excited because it helps the environment, so I don’t see why they shouldn’t. We’re not banning straws, it’s just giving up a day. One day makes a difference,” she said.
Amanda Black, a sophomore accounting major, said she is excited to participate in the Oct. 25 straw-free day, but she thinks the rest of campus may be reluctant because of the sheer convenience of plastic straws.
“I’m already trying to use (fewer) straws, it’s just kind of hard because everything here kind of requires straws, but if there’s a moment when I don’t need a straw, I’ll try not to use it,” Black said.
Skyrm said the straw-free movement is only a small part of a larger recycling movement she hopes the campus can get behind.
“It’s all part of a bigger movement, too. Straws are the first thing, but we also want people to think about not using so much disposable plastic, like takeout containers and to think about what you’re buying at the grocery stores,” she said. “It’s all part of a bigger issue, and it’s all part of the recycling issue, which we hope the campus can get more involved in as time goes on.”
Neopaney said the proclamation declaring Oct.25 a straw-free day in Vermillion will help the movement stay alive in upcoming years.
‘It’s an ongoing movement,” she said. “People will be reminded annually because of the proclamation, so people won’t forget about it. Even if it’s just one day, it makes a huge difference.”