Plastic straws and utensils will be banned from Seattle restaurants beginning June 2018, when an ordinance first passed in 2010 takes effect.
The measure will make Seattle the first US city to enact a ban on plastic straws, putting it at the forefront of a global movement that aims to remove plastic from global supply chains because of its many environmental impacts.
"As of July 1, 2018, food services businesses should not be providing plastic straws or utensils," Sego Jackson, the strategic advisor for Waste Prevention and Product Stewardship for Seattle Public Utilities, told Q13 FOX.
"What they should be providing are compostable straws or compostable utensils,” he added. “But they also might be providing durables, reusables, or encouraging you to skip the straw altogether.”
A version of this ban will be tested in September, when the Lonely Whale Foundation leads a city-wide “Strawless in Seattle” campaign that involves more than 100 restaurants, major sports organizations, and other prominent institutions such as airports and aquariums.
Businesses taking part in the pledge will get rid of plastic straws for September, and offer consumers sustainable alternatives instead. Lonely Whale has partnered with the brand Aardvark to provide businesses with biodegradable alternatives to straws.
The goal is to reduce 1 million plastic straws and give people and businesses of Seattle a glimpse of what a straw-free world is like.
But the campaign is only partial and temporary. The official ban next June is permanent, widespread, and gets to the root of plastic consumption in the city.
It doesn’t entirely get rid of straws and utensils, however. People will still be able to buy them at grocery stores and restaurants will be given some time to adjust before they get fined for violating the new law.
Every day, 500 million straws are used in the US, according to Lonely Whale. Since the US accounts for just 4% of the global population, the total number of straws used is likely much higher.
The vast majority of these straws end up in landfills and oceans where they harm marine life.
Plastic utensils, meanwhile, constitute another enormous source of waste. In fact, 6 million tons of non-durable plastics like forks, spoons, and knives are discarded every year, and the bulk ends up in landfills and oceans.
Seattle is just one city, but it’s part of a global movement that seeks to transition away from plastic.
In 2010, the city banned plastic bags and in four years saw residential plastic bag waste fall 50% and commercial plastic bag waste fall around 75%.
The effort against plastic bags has been ongoing for more than a decade and victories have been made throughout the US and the world. The entire state of California, for example, has banned plastic bags and whole countries such as Kenya have enacted total bans.
Plastic straws and utensils have only recently become the target of environmental groups and their movement has been spurred by the awareness that plastic straws and utensils are disproportionately represented in global marine pollution.
Each year, 8-12 million tons of plastic pollution make it into the world’s oceans
Once straws make it into bodies of water, they can end up harming marine animals that mistake them for food and choke on them or get them caught in their guts. Studies have found that 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles ingest plastic and this greatly increases an animal’s mortality rate. Plastic straws also break down into microplastics eventually, which are more easily ingested, leach toxins into the water, and ultimately blanket the ocean floor.
Seattle’s ban is a start, but to really make a dent in the problem of plastic pollution, many other cities, states, and countries have to step up, too.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for environmental sustainability, including responsible consumption and production. You can take action on these issues here.