Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Bans Most Plastic Straws

Use by bars and restaurants prohibited unless customers request them.

By - Nov 26th, 2019 01:28 pm
Drinking straws.

Drinking straws.

The Common Council passed a ban on plastic straws.

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.

The ordinance is sponsored by Johnson, Jose G. Perez, Robert Bauman, Nik Kovac, Nikiya Dodd, Russell W. Stamper, II, Chantia Lewis and Khalif Rainey.

Attorney William Crowley of Disability Rights Wisconsin thanked Johnson for amending his original proposal. “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.

An exception would also be included for drinks like smoothies that do not work well with paper straws. Pre-packaged items that come with a straw would also be exempted.

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.

At committee, 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.

The council’s Public Works Committee first debated a ban on straws in early September after the Department of Public Works delivered a report on recycling.

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.

A host of area restaurants have swapped plastic for paper as well, with La MerendaEngine Company No. 3, LuLu Cafe and the HiHat tavern among the first.

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.

Regardless of how big of a problem it is, it’s become a partisan issue.

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 was the lone opponent of the measure, opposing it at both committee and council. He also took aim at the proposal via press release.

“My concern is not these proposals in themselves. It is that none of them represent the primary concerns of my constituents – they don’t even come close,” wrote Donovan in his release. “I defy anyone to poll the residents of the City and ask them what their priorities are. What are the odds drinking straws, bathroom policies, and team mascots scratch the top 50?”

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s office told Urban Milwaukee back in September that he would support a ban.

Editors note: An earlier version of the story said this file passed unanimously. While the committee report passed unanimously this file passed 14-1, with Ald. Donovan in opposition.

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Related Legislation: File 190942

One thought on “City Hall: Council Bans Most Plastic Straws”

  1. David Coles says:

    No penalty for non-compliance?!?! Without any teeth in the law, one cannot expect high rates of compliance. Old habits die hard.

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