Falmouth students drive change to paper straws

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FALMOUTH — A class project led three fifth-graders at Falmouth Elementary School to push the cafeteria to convert from plastic straws to compostible paper ones.

Adey Wrona, Amanda Liu and Simon Thayer, even got the Parent Teacher Organization to cover the additional cost of buying paper instead of plastic straws. 

So far, the change has been a hit with students and faculty alike.

Wrona said she and the others first got the idea of asking the school administration to switch to paper straws after an in-class debate about whether straws should be banned outright.

She said almost one-third of the class voted to keep straws, so Wrona and the others began researching alternatives to plastic and decided that using paper straws was the best choice.

Assistant Principal Michael Lynch said there are a variety of sanitary reasons, as well as convenience, for students to continue to use straws, particularly for those in kindergarten and first grade.

Through their research, Wrona, Liu and Thayer learned that 500 million plastic straws are used in the U.S. every day and many of those straws end up in the ocean, affecting the health of sea life and littering beaches around the world.

Wrona and her peers said they were particularly motivated to do something after learning about the impact on sea life, including a recent story about a young whale found dead in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

All three acknowledged eliminating plastic straw use at Falmouth Elementary is only a small step.

“But we have to start somewhere,” Wrona said, with Thayer adding, “any difference we can make is good.”

Christina Bonner, head of the PTO at Falmouth Elementary, said members voted unanimously to give the school the $480 needed to cover the difference in cost between plastic and paper straws for the remainder of the school year.

The hope now, Lynch said, is for the food services department to make paper straw purchases part of its new fiscal year 2020 budget.

Falmouth food services director Martha Poliquin said she’s reached out to other school districts interested in changing to paper straws with the idea that bulk purchasing should help lower the cost for everyone.

She and Lynch estimate that students at Falmouth Elementary go through about 500 plastic straws a day and eliminating them has diverted around a pound of plastic from the school’s waste stream so far.

Lynch said what makes the effort to switch from plastic to paper straws so impressive is that it was completely student-driven.

He said that Wrona, Liu and Thayer spent a lot of time and effort on creating their presentation and delivering it first to school administrators. The students also attended all six lunch periods, where they also took questions from their peers. 

Lynch said students switched after winter break and so far there have been no complaints, unlike five or six years ago when Falmouth Elementary attempted to get rid of straws all together.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Three fifth-graders at Falmouth Elementary School recently received a check for $480 from the Parent Teacher Organization to cover the cost of switching from plastic to paper straws. From left are Martha Poliquin, director of food services for the Falmouth schools, students Simon Thayer, Adey Wrona and Amanda Liu, and Christine Bonner, head of the PTO.

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