Not The Last Straw: Dining services still searching for best plastic alternative

Dining Services will also be looking for an alternative to the plastic coffee stirrers their catering service still uses. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut Dining Services said it is working to find a permanent alternative to paper straws for all its operations.

“I brought some original ones in to get this started up but now were still shopping for the best straw that’s going to meet everybody’s needs,” Director of Dining Services Dennis Pierce said.

Dining Services recently began using paper straws at Union Street Market. The change was not met enthusiastically by all students. Some have complained about the quality of the straws that are currently in place.

“They’re…a little more difficult to use,” materials science graduate student Thomas Reid said.

Reid said the straws tend to absorb the drink and have a “weird paper taste.”

“I’ve been disappointed the plastic straws didn’t come back,” Reid said.

Pierce said Dining Services wanted to implement the change as quickly as possible while they worked on finding a permanent alternative.

“The first step of anything, if you want to change it, is—let’s change it fast, as fast as we can, then let’s do some research in terms of finality and price point,” Pierce said.

Dining Services is looking to change the straws currently being used in the union and should be able to find a permanent option within a month or so.

The impetus for this change was hearing about an initiative in California to completely ban plastic straws.

Straws have a profoundly negative impact on the environment. Americans use over 500 million plastic straws a day, according to National Geographic.

( Most single-use straws are made of a type of plastic that is non-recyclable and not biodegradable. They are one of the top-10 items picked up in beach cleanups according to (

“Straws are really known, to some degree, as a convenience factor,” Pierce said.  

Dining Services encountered several unforeseen obstacles as it went through the process of making this switch.

“It’s just not easy to…change the straws because you find out these nuances you didn’t know about straws,” Pierce said.

Health and safety requirements mandate that workers have straws and lids on their beverages in the preparation areas. Dining Services also has straws in retail areas and at the grab and gos. Pierce said the grab and go will begin using straw dispensers to reduce the number of wrapped straws, which contribute to excess paper waste. Most residential dining units no longer use straws and straws will probably be phased out entirely.

Pierce said he found there to be a lack of paper straw options on the market.

“The test for the straw is you put it in a beverage and see how long it takes for it to become useless and a cheaper straw literally just falls apart when it hits liquid,” Pierce said.

Dining Services will also be looking for an alternative to the plastic coffee stirrers their catering service still uses. Pierce said they have also been unable to find a straw that can be used for milkshakes.

“That’s our next search. So, for a while, you’re still going to see plastic straws in these areas,” Pierce said.

Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets @ZarraAnna.