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UWF Students Encourage Local Starbucks To Go 'Strawless For Our Seas'

Jennie McKeon

A handful of Starbucks stores in Pensacola and Panama City are going “Strawless for Our Seas” for the month of March thanks to two UWF students.

Seniors Courtney Collins and Gina Rodriguez came up with the initiative for their Biology of Coral Reefs class project with the hopes of encouraging customers to ditch straws in favor of the strawless lids or — better yet — a reusable cup and straw.

Collins, a marine biology student, has worked at the Starbucks on Gregory Street in Pensacola for a little over a year. She was brainstorming ways to reduce plastic when the idea hit her.

In 2018, Starbucks announced it would eliminate single-use plastic straws from its stores by 2020. Collins thought “why not do it now?” She immediately got support from management.

“Some people already ask for the nitro lids, and we do have regulars who come in every day with their cups,” she said. “We don’t see a whole lot of it. I’m hoping with this, that (customers) will catch on.”

Store Manager Ashley Loza said the initiative “rings very true” with Starbucks’ mission and values as locations look to be more environmentally friendly.

With “Strawless for the Seas” initiative, Starbucks will make more use of its “nitro lids” which don’t need straws and are recyclable, unlike plastic straws, which will still be available upon request. 

Credit Ocean Conservancy

Of course, when the month is up, customers don’t have to go back to using straws. The hope is that new habits will be formed by then.

According to Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastic find its way to oceans affecting its ecosystem. A 2017 study from Science Advances, estimates 8.3 billion straws pollute the world’s beaches.

“It’s cool because people say ‘one cup doesn’t matter’ or ‘one straw doesn’t matter,’ but if one person does it and if a whole store does it, and for five whole stores to do it — it is a vast change,” said Rodriguez,  a biology student. 

Monday morning at the Gregory Street Starbucks there was a noticeable difference as Rodriguez pointed out the handful of customers using the strawless lids or using their own cups. Two more Pensacola locations on Bayou Boulevard are also going strawless, as well as two locations in Panama City. So far, Collins said there has been nothing but positive feedback from customers.

Dr. Alexis Janosik was inspired to assign conservation-in-action projects about five years ago after watching a documentary on coral reefs. Collins and Rodriguez have “catapulted” the project further than she thought it could go. 

“They’re really extending their tentacles far and wide with this project,” she said. “It gets the local community more aware of the issue that we have with plastic in our oceans.”

Janosik adds that you can’t get rid of all plastic usage. The important issue at hand is reducing one-time use plastics.

“People use millions of straws across the country,” she said. “This is reducing that amount of plastic, so it’s stopping the flow of plastic to our oceans.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.