Proposal Aims To Eliminate Plastic Straws
Would prevent restaurants from providing straws, unless customers request them.
There could soon be a lot less plastic straws in Milwaukee.
Under a proposal by Alderman Cavalier Johnson, the city would prohibit bars and restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws — with some exceptions. Customers would still be able to receive plastic straws if they request one.
“For those folks that are concerned about having their liberties restricted in any way this just changes what the default is,” said Alderman Scott Spiker. “It’s encouraging you to do the right thing and some of us need to have the default set to do the right thing.”
The exception for customer requests is designed to accommodate those with disabilities that require the use of a straw to eat or drink.
Attorney William Crowley of Disability Rights Wisconsin thanked Johnson for amending his original proposal to accommodate those that need straws. “For many people with disabilities plastic straws are not a convenience but rather a tool that helps them to participate in the community,” wrote Crowley in an email to Johnson.
The restriction would go into effect on April 14th, 2020. It includes no new penalty for non-compliance, but it would be a requirement for food license holders.
Ald. Jose G. Perez said the timeline gives businesses plenty of time to deplete their stock of plastic straws. He said, similar to the spread of vegetarian options, a number of local businesses are already leading the way and he expects the national chains to catch up.
Unlike plastic bags, which the city can’t ban or restrict as a result of a 2016 prohibition of such local ordinances passed by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature, the city can regulate straws.
The 2016 law restricts municipalities from regulating the commercial use of plastic bags or other “auxiliary containers” such a cups, bottles or other packaging.
Seattle was the first city to institute a plastic straw ban. It went into effect in July 2018. California has restricted their use, San Francisco has banned them outright and Starbucks is working to phase them out. A proposal is pending in Madison.
“We know that single-use plastics are bad and we know that banning plastic straws isn’t going to solve the issue, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Johnson in September.
Single-use plastic straws have never been available at Fiserv Forum since it opened in 2018. Miller Park stopped offering them this year, instead offering paper straws on request.
According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, 175 billion straws are used and discarded every year in the United States. And an estimated 8.3 billion straws dot sandy ocean beaches across the world.
But another study estimates that straws represent only 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of plastic that ends up in the oceans annually, despite representing four percent of all the waste by item.
President Donald Trump‘s campaign sold Trump-branded straws after the issue gained national attention, with Trump’s campaign manager announcing the sale of $200,000 worth of the straws in just a few days.
Ald. Robert Donovan is also opposed to the measure. “I would like to see this be more left up to the businesses,” said Donovan. “The demand will eventually go that way.” He said he would prefer to see more education on the matter.
The south-side alderman would prefer to see the focus on recycling: “Another issue that ought to be of huge concern to the city while we’re banning plastic straws in taverns and restaurants, the fact remains that a huge portion of this city doesn’t even recycle. That I think ought to be a priority.” Johnson said he would be glad to work with Donovan on that.
The proposal is sponsored by Johnson, Perez, Robert Bauman, Nik Kovac, Nikiya Dodd and Russell W. Stamper, II. The Public Safety & Health Committee voted 4-1 to support the proposal with only Donovan in opposition.
The proposal will next go before the full Common Council. Mayor Tom Barrett‘s office told Urban Milwaukee back in September that he would support a ban.
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