The Last Straw: D.C. Bans Plastic Straws, Fines Up to $800

This illustration taken on August 12, 2018, shows plastic straws, in a studio, in Paris. - There are more than eight billion tons of plastic littering the planet -- the lion's share of which is not recyclable -- and plastic production is expected to double in the next two decades …
OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Image

The District of Columbia’s ban on plastic straws took effect on Monday, putting in place fines that range from $100 to $800 if plastic straws are discovered in unannounced D.C. Department of Energy and Environment inspections at restaurants and coffee shops.

“Businesses have been warned since the ban was technically enforced on Jan. 1, 2019, but no real punishments were put in place,” the Washington Examiner reported. “Now, D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) will fine offenders as part of their effort to divert 80% of its waste from landfills by 2032. Earlier in January, they sent out an employee, Zach Rybarczyk, to patrol Union Station and check straw inventory.”

The DCist reported a few details about the new straw policy:

    • “DOEE’s list of acceptable materials for straws include compostable and/or reusable straws, such as those made from paper, bamboo, hay, stainless steel, and glass. Although the department acknowledges that those options tend to be more expensive than those made of plastic, they are telling businesses to offset these costs by simply not offering straws in the first place.”
    • “Because some customers with disabilities require plastic straws to drink, businesses will be required to keep a limited supply of plastic straws on site. These will be given upon request to customers with disabilities, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the DC Human Rights Act.”
    • “The department investigates more than 300 businesses each year to check for compliance with the styrofoam ban, as well as the recyclable and compostable food service ware requirements. They conduct these inspections at businesses throughout the year.”

The organization behind the anti-plastic movement is Our Last Straw (OLS), but straws are not the last item it hopes to ban.

“According to Dan Simons, founder of Our Last Straw and Farmers Restaurant Group, next on their docket is all single-use plastic items, which include utensils, cups, bottles, and the like,” the DCist reported.

“This is the type of outcome I envisioned when I started OLS,” Simons says, “business and government joining together for sensible, important regulation.”

According to the D.C. website, the district joined the OLS movement:

In an effort to reduce plastic waste and litter in the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced her full support of Our Last Straw, joining the coalition of businesses, environmental organizations, and residents seeking to eliminate the use of single-use plastic straws.

“Washington, DC, is proud to be leading the way on reducing plastic waste,” said Bowser, “and as we continue on the path to becoming the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the nation, it’s time to tackle straws.”

“Residents and businesses are eager to be part of the solution, and through the Our Last Straw coalition, it’s going to be easy to do just that,” Bowser said. “I encourage everyone to take the pledge to say no to plastic straws, and to help keep our neighborhoods, our waterways, and our city trash free.”

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