Author ORCID Identifier

http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4464-8795

Degree Year

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Environmental Studies

Committee Member(s)

Cynthia McPherson Frantz, Co-chair
Roger H. Laushman, Co-chair

Keywords

Drinking straws, Greenhouse gas emissions, GHG, Life cycle analysis, Polylactic acid, PLA, Polypropylene, PP

Abstract

Plastic straws are one of the most abundant items found in oceans and coastal cleanups around the United States and internationally. Plastic does not decompose over time, so all the plastic we have ever made is still around, affecting every ecosystem on the planet. Drinking straws are made of 100% recyclable material, but because of their small size most recycling plants are not able to process them so they are sent to landfills. Petroleum-based plastic production is also a large source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making up 1-3% of the United States’ carbon emissions alone. By considering green alternatives to PP drinking straws, we can see if there actually are affordable alternatives that can help reduce plastic waste and carbon emissions. This case study focuses on the Feve, a restaurant in the City of Oberlin, and aims to understand the cultural significance of drinking straws in town, and uses that information to suggest ways of changing straw distribution behavior and minimize plastic waste. This study also compares the environmental and financial costs of the Feve using petroleum-based polypropylene (PP) drinking straws versus “greener” alternatives by constructing a modified life cycle analysis to determine if switching to biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) plastic drinking straws decreases the Feve’s carbon and plastic waste footprint. By tracing GHG emissions created in the production of plastic resins, transportation of materials and products, and disposal of plastic straws, I compare the carbon footprint of three products to see if one is better for the environment than the others. I hope this study can be used as a model to help other restaurants make plans to reduce their plastic waste and carbon footprint at an affordable cost.

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