WUSM Bon Appétit Cafés Begin Phasing Out Plastic Straws

“The Last Straw” for Bon Appétit

The School of Medicine campus has two major dining facilities – Shell Café in McDonnell Medical Sciences Building and Farmstead Café in McDonnell Pediatric Research Building. Both of these cafés are operated by Bon Appétit Management Company, a full food-service management company based in Palo Alto, CA. Sustainability is one of the company’s core values, causing them to become a leader for environmental stewardship in food service.

Bon Appetit’s most recent step towards a sustainable future started in May 2018 when the company announced a ban on plastic straws companywide, which includes 1,000 cafes in 33 states. The transition away from single-use plastic straws is set to be completed by September 2019, with many locations implementing the switch immediately. Shell and Farmstead have put up signage to raise awareness about the upcoming changes and why they are taking place. Once plastic straws are completely phased out, the company plans to offer paper straws to guests that request or require straws.

Beyond Straws, the Greater Issue of Single-Use Plastics

While straws may seem like just the tip of the plastic iceberg, straw bans are raising awareness about the greater issues that we are facing both locally and worldwide. According to a study published in Science Advances, only 9% of plastics are recycled, with the majority ending up in landfills or as pollution in the natural environment. By volume, straws are the number one plastic contaminate in the Mississippi River according to the Mississippi River Towns and Cities Initiative, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch shows how big the plastic problem quickly becomes when we look at a global scale.

While straws are often made out of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic, their size and shape make it nearly impossible for waste sorting machinery to capture them for recycling. They can fall into cracks in the machinery, fall out of the grates completely, or even cause mechanical issues by getting lodged in the sorting machines. Straws, bottles, and many other plastics are used once and then discarded. These plastics will then stick around on our planet for centuries to come. While it is extremely challenging to shift away from all single-use plastics overnight, starting small is the best first step.

Bon Appetit, Food Service Driven by Sustainability

The great news is – it isn’t just plastic pollution that Bon Appétit is tackling through their company-wide practices. In their daily operations, the chefs cook all food from scratch and prioritize making small batches to minimize food waste. Behind the scenes at Shell Café and Farmstead Café, kitchen scraps and food waste are collected and composted, which accounted for nearly 9,000 pounds of waste that was diverted from landfills in 2017. Bon Appétit also places a high priority on purchasing from local farmers and selecting products that are environmentally sustainable, including: sustainable seafood, humanely raised meat and eggs, meat and dairy from animals raised without added hormones or antibiotics, certified organic, among others. Bon Appétit is leading the way towards a sustainable future when it comes to food service, both on the Washington University School of Medicine campus and nationwide.

This article was written by Alicia Hubert, sustainability coordinator for the WashU School of Medicine.