8 Feb 2019
U.S. State and Local Efforts to Restrict Use of Plastic Straws Intensify
Americans love cold beverages with ice, and a glass of water with ice and a straw is normally brought to the restaurant table as soon as a customer sits down. However, the use of plastic straws is rapidly being restricted at the U.S. state and local levels as concerns grow about plastic pollution.
To illustrate, Seattle banned all plastic utensils – including straws – from bars and businesses city-wide effective July 2018, while Washington, D.C. banned plastic straws in restaurants and other businesses effective 1 January 2019 after volunteers collected some 10,000 plastic straws during the 30th annual Potomac River Watershed Clean-up in April 2018. Meanwhile, as of January 2019 sit-down restaurants in California are only allowed to provide straws with drinks if customers ask for them.
California citizens have been particularly active in pushing for local bans on the use of plastic straws. Nine cities – including Berkeley – already have such prohibitions in place and San Francisco’s ban will go into effect in July. Los Angeles is also considering a ban on plastic straws and possibly other single-use plastic containers. Florida’s Miami Beach and Fort Myers have banned plastic straws as well. Many U.S. jurisdictions now limit or ban single-use plastic bags and straws and disposable food containers are now also being targeted, as many citizens continue to propose new approaches to plastic pollution.
National Geographic Magazine devoted its June 2018 issue to the problem of plastic pollution. Single-use plastics were a focus, leading the vice president for plastics of the American Chemistry Council, Steve Russell, to declare to National Geographic that “we think it would be better if straws weren't automatically provided but available should a consumer need one.” Moreover, ocean scientists are now publicising the negative impact from plastic waste on oceans and ocean life such as the massive gyre of marine debris particles in the north central Pacific Ocean, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Many companies that have customarily provided straws automatically for cold beverages are also announcing plans to phase them out, including Starbucks, Disney, Royal Caribbean and Alaska Airlines. Bon Appétit Management, a food service company with 1,000 U.S. locations, announced last May that it will phase out plastic straws. In July, food service giant Aramark, a company that operates in schools, prisons, hospitals and businesses in 19 countries around the world, promised to reduce world-wide plastic straw use by 60 percent by 2020 while still making some straws available to people with disabilities.
Given that many U.S. customers still express surprise when a straw is not provided, U.S. restaurants and bars are experimenting with reusable straws made of glass, bamboo or stainless steel, or are providing disposable straws made of paper or actual straw from grasses and grains.