Seattle has become the first major U.S. city to ban on plastic straws and plastic utensils.
“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,” Mami Hara, general manager of Seattle Public Utilities, told KOMO, a radio station, on Sunday.
“Our goal for the next year is to help all restaurants, food trucks, and food service operations shift away from plastic to compostable food serviceware,” Hara said.
The plastic straws and utensils ban went into effect this month, and it continues a trend of environmentalist bans and regulations in the city. The origin of the latest ban was an ordinance passed in 2008 against one-time use food products, but Seattle officials have made exemptions for plastics — until now, Fox News reports.
The city passed the ordinance to reduce waste and prevent petroleum-based plastics from contaminating compost and marine areas, officials told KOMO.
Restaurants were instructed to phase out their plastic straws and utensils before July. Businesses not in compliance with the regulation face a $250 fine per infraction, Fox News reported. Additionally, businesses must use compost and recyclable bins in accordance with a 2010 regulation.
“The Seattle Restaurant Alliance cares about the environment and collaborates with its members to deliver eco-friendly solutions,” Morgan Huether of the Washington Hospitality Association told LifeZette. “We worked closely with Seattle Public Utilities to provide our members the tools they need to comply with the compostable requirements that take effect July 1.”
The Seattle Restaurant Alliance provides a more comprehensive list of banned products, including “plastic straws, spoons, forks, knives and cocktail picks.” Small portion cups and lids have been given a “temporary exemption.”
The Washington Hospitality Association told LifeZette its organization has helped restaurants and small businesses prepare for the plastic straws and utensils ban since last August by helping them find alternatives, such as compostable straws, reusable straws, and lids with drinkable portals.
It's the last straw for Seattle. It's believed to be the first major US city to ban single-use plastic straws and utensils in an effort to curtail ocean pollution. https://t.co/ZXXCyO5Rwn
— AP West Region (@APWestRegion) July 2, 2018
Seattle is not the only major city to pass such a ban. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, voted to pass a plastics ban in May, as part of its Zero Waste 2040 program.
The U.S. city of Malibu also passed a plastics ban in February.
The following states (plus Washington, D.C.) have implemented plastic bag bans, or have cities with bans, according to Californians Against Waste: Alaska, Arizona, California (entire state, 2016), Colorado, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.
While environmentalists tout such plastic bag bans as a clear win, the evidence is far from certain that this is beneficial for the human environment. Reusable bags can be health hazards if they aren’t washed after each use, which obviously requires water and anti-bacterial agents.
A comprehensive Australian study cited in a 2016 Wired article found that “paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic.” It also found that cotton reusable bags require a tremendous amount of energy, pesticides, and water to produce.
“Only 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, yet it accounts for 24 percent of the global market for insecticides and 11 percent for pesticides, the World Wildlife Fund reports,” Wired noted. “A pound of cotton requires more than 5,000 gallons of water on average, a thirst far greater than that of any vegetable and even most meats. And cotton, unlike paper, is not currently recycled in most places.”
Reusable, recycled plastic bags may be the most environmentally efficient option, the Australian study noted. In other words, energy expenditure, water usage, and public health impacts are all serious factors to consider when implementing any environmental ban.
The public health and cost impact of the plastic straws and utensils ban in Seattle remains to be seen.