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University of Houston getting rid of plastic bags, straws

‘It is a pointless exercise in futility. What UH does will have no discernible effect,’ eco-realist argues

University of Houston students returning to campus for the spring semester will see a major reduction in available plastic products as student government leaders aim to reduce plastic consumption.

The UH Student Government Association is considering a bill to prohibit plastic bags and offer reusable straws in campus stores. But the student leaders’ environmental goals already have prompted change at the public university.

This month, dining halls on campus began replacing some plastic products in response to SGA efforts, UH Director of Media Relations Bryan Luhn told The College Fix.

“UH Dining plans to replace plastic straws with a sustainable marine biodegradable straw,” Luhn said.

Campus convenience stores also have agreed to replace plastic bags with reusable totes, according to Luhn.

“At the request of SGA and [the Food Service Advisory Committee], effective January 1st, plastic bags will no longer be available in any campus market/convenience store,” Luhn told The Fix.

Reducing plastic use is one of SGA President Benjamin Rizk’s goals for creating a “sustainable campus” this school year, according to his Executive Agenda.

Rizk’s agenda describes several environmental initiatives, including a recycling project, a garden reconstruction, and the minimization of plastic use. It outlines plans to “work with the Office of Sustainability and Auxiliary Services to identify areas in which plastics use can be reduced or cut out entirely in food service, packaging, and other areas of campus life.”

However, Anthony Watts, an environmentalist and senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, said he is skeptical of the plastic ban, and believes it will be ineffective.

“It is a pointless exercise in futility. What UH does will have no discernible effect,” Watts told The College Fix.

Watts said implementing a total plastic ban is just not feasible in many cases.

“Plastic is necessary in today’s modern world. Phasing it out is not a practical solution as paper products cannot replace it in every instance,” Watts told The Fix.

His point fits with what is happening at the Texas university. Two UH dining brands indicated that a full switch from plastic to paper is not possible at this time, according to the university spokesman.

“Plastic bags will still be in use at a few of our dining brands, especially for very large orders. We consulted with both brands about switching to paper, but they are not able to accommodate the requests,” Luhn told The Fix.

Eventually, the UH Student Government president wants paper bags to be removed, too, according to The Daily Cougar student newspaper.

“We want to phase out plastic bags slowly so students can adapt to the change, so at first paper bags will be available, but eventually they will be phased out as well,” Rizk said during a November SGA meeting, the report states.

The Fix contacted Rizk twice in the past several weeks to ask about his plastic reduction plan, but he did not respond.

Meanwhile, the SGA bill, the Plastic Elimination Act, had its first reading in November; it would prohibit plastic bags and require reusable straws to be offered in campus stores, according to The Daily Cougar.

Luhn told The Fix that he expects a vote on the legislation sometime in the spring semester.

MORE: Universities nationwide ban plastic straws as students bolster movement

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About the Author
Emily Rosecrans -- Clemson University