Washington DC’s Plastic Straw and Stirrer Ban Goes Into Effect

(Photo Credit: D Coetzee, Flickr Creative Commons)

Washington DC’s ban on plastic straws in city businesses and restaurants went into effect this week. Starting on January 1, the Department of Energy and Environment can start inspecting businesses and issuing unofficial warnings.

This represents the District’s second attempt to ban plastic straws following confusion about whether a 2014 law applied, Fenit Nirappil and Arelis R. Hernández wrote in the Washington Post. The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 banned disposable food service ware made from expanded polystyrene and other products that can’t be recycled or composted, the DOEE’s site explains.

DC businesses and organizations selling or providing food and beverage are subject to the law. The DOEE says that besides restaurants and bars, regulated entities include delis, cafes, food trucks, grocery stores, daycare providers as well as companies, churches, and nonprofits that provide free coffee or food.

In October 2018, the list of acceptable products under the 2014 law was updated to specifically exclude single-use plastic straws and stirrers. The new requirements for those products began on Tuesday but local businesses have until July 1, 2019 to complete the transition before the DOEE begins issuing fines for violations.

Dozens of DC businesses have already voluntarily ditched plastic straws, WAMU’s Jacob Fenston reported. “Many have started using hay straws, which are popular — they hold up well in drinks,” Zachary Rybarczyk, part of the enforcement team with the District’s DOEE told the outlet. “We’ve seen restaurants switch over to paper straws. And we’ve also seen restaurants using reusable straws — also popular in bars.”

Pressure to phase out single-use straws across the country has created an increased demand for alternatives, producing a boon for many of the businesses that make them. At the same time, plastic straw bans remain controversial. Advocacy groups for people with disabilities want to make sure that new policies grant exceptions for those who rely on plastic straws for health reasons.

Alternative straws are also coming under scrutiny from nonprofit organizations. Our Last Straw is a coalition of restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, event venues, and organizations in the DC metro region that has been working to eliminate single-use plastic straws. Compostable straws aren’t the answer, the coalition argues.

“In most cases, compostable plastic straws will not be composted or biodegrade on their own,” the coalition’s site says. “They need oxygen and sunshine to break down, neither of which is available in a landfill or in the ocean.”

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