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Plastic sucks: Seattle ban on non-compostable straws and utensils set to begin

Better stock up on compostable mermaids (Image: CHS)

Beginning Sunday, you had better not find plastic straws, utensils, or cocktail picks inside your favorite Capitol Hill bars, cafes, and restaurants.

July 1st marks the start of the city’s ban on the petroleum-based items that can’t be recycled and are adding to the bursting city’s garbage problem.

“Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world’s oceans, and I’m proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban,” Seattle Public Utilities general manager Mami Hara said in an announcement on the ban. “We are excited to continue our work looking for ways to reduce our plastic footprint and will continue to lead the way,” Hara said.

Seattle is believed to be the first large city in the country to enact such a ban.

The change comes after years of treating the items as an exception following the 2008 adoption of a city ordinance requiring that one-time-use food service items be recyclable or compostable.

SPU says that neighborhood businesses shouldn’t be caught by surprise by the ban.

In March 2017, SPU announced its intent to implement the ban on plastic straws and plastic utensils, and has been working with businesses since then, to help them prepare. This March, Seattle food service businesses were advised of the new requirements, by letter, and asked to take action, including:

  • Use up existing inventory of plastic utensils and straws before July 1, 2018. Businesses unable to do so, were asked to contact SPU (contact info below) to establish a compliance schedule.
  • Choose compliant food serviceware to meet packaging, utensil, and straw requirements.
  • Provide utensils and straws only on request, and use dispensers for customers to select their own utensils and straws, if not already a current practice.
  • Designate clearly marked collection containers for recyclables and compostables in employee and customer areas.
  • Arrange for commercial collection service of compostable and recyclable materials.

SPU is also encouraging businesses to switch to paper straws as they choose their compostable alternatives — the paper ones break down if they end up in the water while most “corn plastic” straws won’t melt away. A big fan of milkshakes? We suggest you start carrying a special shake straw around your neck.

Meanwhile, straw and plastic fork scofflaws beware. “Failure to comply with the food service ware ordinance may result in a $250 fine,” SPU warns (PDF).

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11 thoughts on “Plastic sucks: Seattle ban on non-compostable straws and utensils set to begin

  1. I just do not understand why paper straws are an issue. I’m old. I remember nothing but paper straws in my youth in the 1960’s. They worked fine. Now we need giant straws for milkshakes? Come on people, suck it up! Literally.

  2. What I wonder: Will restaurants offer non-plastic alternatives (guessing they’re more expensive) or require people to go without? A pretty significant portion of the population can’t drink without a straw for various reasons. And, before folks suggest all the reusable options straw-needing people should just carry around with them: Unless we’re all going to be required to bring our own cups and mugs everywhere, asking someone who can’t drink without a straw to just bring their own is unreasonable.

    • Quite a few restaurants provide compostable plastic straws that are pretty sturdy, Lil’ Woody’s comes to mind. They aren’t banning those, so I don’t see what the issue is.

    • My understanding is that many restaurants will offer straws upon request. Others will have them available to pick up, but not included automatically. I am unaware of any restaurant that will not offer them at all.

  3. As an owner of 2 area bars/restaurants the cost of compostable straws in not a big issue. If the cost of these will make or break a business, they were on the outs anyway. Instead of .5 cent these cost less than 2. And, as use goes up the cost will go down. The big issue for me is access to these compostable straws. Restaurant Depot is out of stock. Online stores are out of stock. Even Amazon’s overpriced ones are out of stock. So, if your favorite watering hole is still using plastic straws let them know that you’ve noticed and give them some time. I’ve been trying to switch for about 4 months now and can only get enough to use them 50% of the time. I hope this changes as availability grows. This is a good thing and should be adopted statewide to have a bigger positive impact on the environment.

  4. Thanks Mami,
    There will be some grumbling, however we’re turning into plastic people by consuming seafood. Now we need get rid of the little tetra-pack straws and their plastic straw wrappers(!) that we are constantly picking up from our public green space.

  5. As of this morning, Westman’s Bagels on Madison has plastic straws and only a single ‘garbage’ bin. Almost everything should be compostable or recyclable. It’s really not a good look for a business with such high visibility. They should be setting an example. Frankly, it’s just lazy. Monica, what gives?