Restaurants in Seattle must stop offering customers plastic straws and utensils by July 1 as the city makes its move to be the first major city in the US to ban them, following in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, which has pledged to do the same by 2019. The city first passed a ban on single-use food service items in 2018, beginning with foam and plastic take-out containers, but utensils and straws were exempted until the market matured enough to provide an affordable alternative.
Items like plastic straws, food containers and bags are usually used for a matter of minutes but, since they are made of plastic, they can last in the environment because plastics take hundreds of years to break down.
Now, the city says the time has come for businesses to make the switch. Plastic straws receive much negative attention because they can blow out of the trash and waste stream and into oceans, sparking initiatives such as National Skip the Straw Day. Following these changes, businesses found to be violating the rule will be subject to a $250 fine.
Though most people don't mind losing the straw, disability advocates are calling for exceptions to be made for people with disabilities who are unable to drink without one.
There are currently no exceptions in place, but restaurant-goers are able to bring their own straw, or restaurants can offer compostable ones as an alternative.
Billions of straws are thrown into landfills each year and from 1989 to 2014, the California Costal Commission picked up 735,000 straws from beaches, making it the sixth most-found piece of trash. In Canada, 330,000 pieces of plastic were picked up on the country's shoreline, including 17,654 straws, in a cleanup effort supported by Oceanwise and WWF-Canada.
To prepare for the regulation going into effect, 200 food-service locations in Seattle voluntarily stopped offering plastic straws last year, in partnership with Strawless in Seattle. The organization estimates 2.3 million straws were kept out of the city as a result of the initiative.
Many US cities are progressive in banning these environmentally harmful materials, including Miami Beach, FL, Monmouth Beach, NJ and both Oakland and Berkeley, CA. New York City passed legislation to ban plastic straws earlier this year and Hawaii proposed a state-wide ban of the utensils, but the proposal was quickly dropped after pressure from the plastics industry.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to say whether Canada is considering the same type of plastics ban, but said it was to be a key theme of Canada's G7 meetings and that solutions would be discussed then.