Elementary schools in Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) will no longer offer plastic straws to students beginning next school year.

The decision to remove straws from the cafeterias at all 36 CUSD elementary schools comes as the district moves away from plastics and instead toward compostable utensils and napkins, according to Kristin Hilleman, director of Food and Nutrition Services.

Currently, the elementary schools provide students with fork and napkin packages that include plastic straws. Those packages are being phased out to make way for the new compostable packages without straws.

High schools and middle schools across the district haven’t had straws for several years, because there hasn’t been a need for such an item, Hilleman said. The schools don’t have fountain drink options, and students typically drink from bottles and cans.

CUSD also found that the straws were creating more waste.

“There’s too much waste, and we don’t need waste. The kids weren’t using the straws, so why purchase something that’s not going to be used anyway?” Hilleman said.

CUSD will be following in the footsteps of Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Saddleback Unified School District, which nixed plastic straws at the start of the current school year.

Chloe Mei Espinosa, a seventh-grader from Corona Del Mar Middle School, was instrumental in getting Newport-Mesa and Saddleback to “skip the plastic straw”—a reference to her campaign to reduce the use of single-use plastic straws.

“I submitted personalized emails telling them about plastic straws, I showed them videos … and I talked about my campaign,” Espinosa, 12, said of her efforts to have the school district join her pledge to stop using plastic straws.

As a beach-city resident, Espinosa has advocated for alternatives to plastic straws in order to reduce pollution in the ocean. Such alternatives, she said, include glass, bamboo and paper straws.

This past summer, Espinosa attended the inaugural Ocean Heroes Bootcamp where she learned how to create a campaign, utilize social media and pitch proposals.

Many students weren’t aware that the plastic straws had been removed from the Newport-Mesa and Saddleback schools. To build awareness of the removal, the districts agreed to let Espinosa hang up posters explaining the environmental need to move toward biodegradable paper straws

Back in August of last year, and again in early February, Espinosa approached CUSD asking the district to join the campaign. According to Hilleman, the district had already been considering eliminating plastic straws for some time.

“There was no campaign necessary,” Hilleman said. “It was a very easy ‘yes,’”

Hilleman said the new compostable fork-napkin kits will be available to students when the 2019-2020 school year rolls around.

Espinosa said she will be attending the 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp.

“This year’s theme will be about plastic bottles, so I hope to bring my campaign to the next level,” Espinosa said.

To learn more about Espinosa’s efforts, visit skiptheplasticstraw.com.

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