Left to Right: Hillsdale High School sophomore Maya Hall, science teacher Kraig Putnam, sophomore Rhylie Dietz. Madeleine Mller | Col­legian

Inspired by the research and ini­tiative of two stu­dents, Hillsdale High School has replaced plastic straws with paper straws.

At the end of the 2019 spring semester, science teacher Kraig Putnam required his stu­dents to research and devise a solution to an envi­ron­mental issue impacting Michigan for their final biology project. He also encouraged them to implement their pro­posed solu­tions. 

“I was hoping they would go above and beyond,” he said. “I gave them the freedom to cause change.” 

Then freshmen, Maya Hall and Rhylie Dietz, wanted to find a topic for which they could provide a prac­tical solution.  They chose to inves­tigate plastic pol­lution in the Great Lakes. 

Hall and Dietz cal­cu­lated the number of plastic par­ticles per cubic kilo­meter in each Great Lake and dis­tributed flyers of their findings throughout the school. During their pre­sen­tation, they explained that, although the numbers may not seem large, fish, birds, and other wildlife die from con­suming the plastic par­ticles. 

Based on their findings, the stu­dents decided elim­i­nating plastic straw use was an effective way to reduce plastic pol­lution since plastic straws are easily sub­sti­tutable. 

The night before their pre­sen­tation, they emailed Hillsdale High School Prin­cipal Amy Gold­smith to see whether the school might stop offering plastic straws. 

“We didn’t have to put any­thing into action for the project,” said Dietz. “But we had to go above and beyond to get 100% on the project and it was worth 20% of our final, so we wanted to do well.”

Gold­smith praised them for their work and responded that she would help them elim­inate plastic straws from Hillsdale High School by the beginning of the current fall semester. 

“It’s important to appre­ciate stu­dents’ awareness, concern, interest, and will­ingness to con­tribute to sus­tain­ability ini­tia­tives,” she said. 

As of August, Hillsdale High School no longer pro­vides plastic straws in its cafe­teria or student-run coffee house. 

Although paper straws cost more than plastic, Hillsdale Com­munity Schools Food Ser­vices Director Laura Donihue said she believes the switch to paper will be ben­e­ficial overall. 

“My hope is that by offering paper straws, we are raising stu­dents’ awareness of waste and perhaps they will skip the straw alto­gether, resulting in a cost-neutral change.” 

She added to the school’s sus­tain­ability efforts by intro­ducing “Forkless Fridays,” during which the cafe­teria offers finger foods for lunch to reduce waste from plas­ticware. 

Now sopho­mores, Hall and Dietz said they have been excited to watch their pro­posal become reality. 

“Our whole class was ecstatic,” Hall said of their biology class­mates. 

Putnam said he was amazed by his stu­dents’ enthu­siasm. 

“I think it was really cool to see how eager everyone was to make a change. It’s easy to talk about change, but not as many people actually do it — espe­cially as freshmen.”

Both stu­dents plan to con­tinue pro­tecting the envi­ronment. Dietz hopes to study ento­mology and perhaps teach at the college level, while Hall said she is more inter­ested in a career in writing but intends to remain involved in envi­ron­mental activism.

Whatever they pursue in the future, Dietz and Hall are proud of their efforts thus far. 

“It’s crazy to be in high school and actually making a change,” said Hall.