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The Last Straw? 

Student Helps Enact Plan to Reduce Plastic Straws on Campus  

Grace McGrath displays her metal reusable straw, and the straw brush that keeps it clean between uses.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 14, 2019) — Grace McGrath keeps pretty busy. The sophomore from Ithaca is a business major and education minor who works off campus for the search firm Careers on the Move, the public relations agency Relentless Awareness, and the Capital District Women's Employment and Resource Center.

On campus, she is a programing and social media intern for the Center for Leadership and Service, a peer career advisor, and vice president of Women Excelling in Business. And in August 2018 she began blogging for the Office of Sustainability.

That sparked some passion in McGrath.

The office works to engage and educate the campus community about sustainable advancements and policies. It is developing the University’s first Climate Action and Sustainability Plan, a 10-year plan that includes integrating sustainability issues into curriculum and research; reducing energy and resource use; becoming carbon neutral; and increasing community engagement. The plan is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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McGrath accepts a student staff award from VP for Student Affairs Michael Christakis, left, and the Terra Award from VP for Finance and Administration Todd Foreman. 

McGrath isn’t waiting. She decided to take steps now to rid the world of plastic straws, which have been in the news since a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral a few years ago. McGrath researched the issue and brought her concerns to campus leaders, then sought buy-in from the Student Association and the Graduate Student Association.

Her actions brought results. Last week University Auxiliary Services, which oversees food services on campus, passed a resolution to stop automatically handing out plastic straws with drinks. Straws will only be offered only upon request, a move that should drastically cut down the number of straws used and disposed of.

McGrath’s efforts won her the student Terra Award this spring, given to those who make an impact on sustainability on campus. She also won the Student Affairs Student Staff award for her work as social media intern at the Center for Leadership and Service.

We had five questions for McGrath:

How did you become interested in sustainability?

I became interested in sustainability when I started blogging for the Office of Sustainability. While I had always cared about the environment, this is when everything came full circle. Doing this work, I saw the facts, and it made me very sad and inspired me to do something.

What lifestyle changes have you made to lesson your own footprint?

I recycle, use a metal straw, walk most places or take the bus, use reusable utensils, convince others to make changes, don't buy new clothes often, reuse and refuse, vote for the environment, and use a reusable water bottle (it is with me all the time).

Why straws?

Because there are many alternatives and it gets people to start thinking about how they can change their behavior even more. It is also such a small thing to change.

What have you learned from getting your idea into a campus-wide action?

I have learned you have to be persistent and not listen to people that doubt you or laugh at you. Also, you have to practice what you preach, or else no one will take you seriously. Don't worry if you are annoying, either, because sometimes that is the only way to get things done.

If you could have dinner with anyone – alive today or from history – who would it be?

I would want to have dinner with Oprah because she is a huge inspiration for me. She is someone who has changed the world and didn't listen to people that doubted her. I would ask her how I could improve with the work I am doing. That would include messaging and how I speak.

 

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