Opinion: Single-use plastic straws are justified during the pandemic


Ella Adams, Managing Editor

App State prides itself on its sustainability. In 2019, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System awarded the university  a “gold rating” of 73.93/100 after evaluating aspects of sustainability such as waste management, energy, and public engagement. The Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution of a climate-neutral campus by 2035 on Oct. 31, 2018. App State has a track record of being environmentally conscious, but the COVID-19 pandemic altered sustainability practices around campus. In the case of a pandemic, this is acceptable.

There is a significant increase in single-use plastic around campus due to COVID-19. The increased use of plastic foam containers, disposable cups and plastic eating utensils are only a few examples of the waste caused by the pandemic – most coming from the dining halls. But, the dining halls aren’t the only culprits. The plastic waste from cleaning public areas around campus and from COVID-19 testing facilities are also factors.

Is this waste necessary? Under normal circumstances, no. But, a global pandemic is not a normal circumstance. 

COVID-19 unfortunately forced the university to put sustainability on hold in favor of keeping students and employees safe. Administration has made operational changes around campus to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. For example, dining halls pre-package food in plastic and plastic foam containers, rather than reusable silverware and plates, to keep both food and staff exposure at a minimum. Staff are required to use plastic gloves to keep themselves and others safe. Additionally, COVID-19 testing centers are essential and there is no way to avoid using single-use plastic. In many aspects of the university, single-use plastic is being used to prevent COVID-19 transmision. 

Reusable products are labor and time consuming to sterilize after each use, so using disposable products is the best method to keep students and employees from exposure. If the university remains open, single-use plastic products are a necessary evil to prevent COVID-19 transmission.