After 10 years since it was first introduced, Seattle’s ban on plastic straws and utensils is set to go into effect.
Beginning July 1, consumers will have to do without straws and plastic utensils, or instead embrace the alternatives: like paper-based straws and degradable forks and spoons.
The ban is expected to keep about 1 million plastic straws from entering Seattle’s waste stream each month, according to Dune Ives of the Lonely Whale Foundation.
Ives joined other environmental activists and city officials at a news conference Tuesday onboard Greenpeace’s icebreaker vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, which is moored at Lake Union in preparation for a protest against the Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
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According to Becca Fong of Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle’s 2008 ordinance was designed to reduce plastic waste by phasing out single-use plastic products.
The city started by banning foam and plastic clamshell containers, said Fong, but it took longer for the supply market to come up with alternatives for other plastic items, such as a compostable spoon that would not dissolve in hot liquids.
Each year since the ordinance was passed, officials have allowed some exemptions to the list of banned items. This past year, the exemptions were not renewed and are set to expire on June 30, Fong said. The ban was voluntarily adopted by more than 200 Seattle locations last year.
While banning straws from the city’s 5,000 permitted eateries won’t solve the world’s ecological problems alone, it’s a critically important “gateway” step that opens up conversations about what each of us can do to reduce our plastic waste, Fong said.
In addition to bringing your own reusable straws and flatware to restaurants, Fong urged people to encourage managers at the stores where they shop to reduce the use of packaging, another huge contributor to the plastic problem, she said.
“It’s not just about the straws,” Ives said. “It’s also about all the other single-use plastics that we can get rid of.”
Kate Melges of Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign said currently the equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic enters the world’s oceans every minute.
And of that, about one-third is made up of plastic items, such as straws, that were intended to be used only once, said Heather Trim, the executive director of Zero Waste Washington.
“Fish are starting to eat plastic, plankton are starting to eat plastic. There are whales and turtles that are washing up all over the world with their bellies full of plastic,” Melges said. In fact, plastic bags were recently found in the digestive tract of an Alaskan halibut, a fish that could have wound up in a Seattle restaurant, she said.
Seattle is believed to be the first major U.S. city to have enacted the 2008 ban on plastic grocery bags and other plastic items that began the city’s efforts to reduce plastic products from food industries that pollute waterways and endanger marine life, according to Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan.
Since then, other cities have either adopted a similar ban, such as Miami Beach, Malibu and Edmonds, or are proposing one, including San Francisco and New York City.
The movement nationwide to stop plastic straws from polluting seas was invigorated after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral online in 2015. More than 170 species of marine life are affected by ingesting debris, according to biologists.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.