Inova Health System bans plastic straws from its facilities

WASHINGTON — The Inova Health System is taking a stand against plastic straws, banning the environmental menace from its six hospitals, healthplexes and clinics across Northern Virginia.

“Our hospitals go through about a mile of straws every single day. Each of those straws really does add up,” said Seema Wadhwa, Inova Health System assistant vice president of sustainability and wellness. “That’s about 3 million straws a year.”

Inova said it recycles more than 2 million pounds of material from its hospitals annually and will be the first health system on the East Coast to eliminate plastic straws.

It also plans to reduce single-use plastic items such as utensils and coffee stirrers in public areas, including cafeterias and gift shops.

“It’s wonderful. It’s going to be great for our region, it’s going to be great for our environment,” Maureen Farrington of the Anacostia Watershed Society said, noting that the plastic can’t be recycled.

During Earth Day cleanup efforts in April, the group collected and counted 4,026 straws from the Anacostia River and area streams and parks.

These 4,026 straws were collected at 30 sites in the Anacostia Watershed on Earth Day, April 21, 2018. (Courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)
These 4,026 straws were collected at 30 sites in the Anacostia Watershed on Earth Day, April 21, 2018. (Courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society) (Courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)
Young volunteers pose with a straw they cleaned up at the Earth Day event. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Young volunteers pose with a straw they cleaned up at the Earth Day event. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society) (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers separated these straws from other debris at River Terrace. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers separated these straws from other debris at River Terrace. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society) (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Volunteers at Bladensburg Waterfront Park hold up a straw they collected during the Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Volunteers at Bladensburg Waterfront Park hold up a straw they collected during the Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society) (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers from Pepco collect straws at the River Terrace site, east of the river in Ward 7. (Courtesy Mike Olliver)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers from Pepco collect straws at the River Terrace site, east of the river in Ward 7. (Courtesy Mike Olliver) (Courtesy Mike Olliver)
These straws are used at a local burger joint for its milkshakes. (WTOP/Kristi King)
These straws are used at a local burger joint for its milkshakes. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
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These 4,026 straws were collected at 30 sites in the Anacostia Watershed on Earth Day, April 21, 2018. (Courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)
Young volunteers pose with a straw they cleaned up at the Earth Day event. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers separated these straws from other debris at River Terrace. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Volunteers at Bladensburg Waterfront Park hold up a straw they collected during the Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup. (Courtesy Dwayne Grimes/Anacostia Watershed Society)
Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup volunteers from Pepco collect straws at the River Terrace site, east of the river in Ward 7. (Courtesy Mike Olliver)
These straws are used at a local burger joint for its milkshakes. (WTOP/Kristi King)

As for what’s prompting the changes at Inova, Wadhwa said it’s about people’s health and being a good neighbor.

“The waste stream has a potential of having an environmental impact and an upstream impact on our health,” Wadhwa said. “So, this is just a continuation of our commitment to our community to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Acknowledging that straws can be essential for some disabled individuals and patients, the hospital will stock eco-friendly, paper straws for use when necessary. The target date to eliminate plastic straws from hospital public areas is America Recycles Day on Nov. 15.

Inova joins the city of Seattle and coffee giant Starbucks in rejecting plastic straws as a move to help the planet.

Locally, the Council of the District of Columbia is considering a ban on plastic straws and stirrers and plans to hold a public hearing on the matter this fall.

“Let’s keep it up. Let’s ban plastic straws, let’s ban plastic bags, let’s do everything we can to keep what we’ve got here,” Farrington said.

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