Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Plastic Straw Ban Went Into Effect, Did Anyone Notice?

As of yesterday, city restaurants and bars must obey. Which is the least of their concerns.

By - Apr 15th, 2020 12:16 pm
Drinking straws.

Drinking straws.

A new city policy went into effect yesterday, but you would have been hard-pressed to notice.

Effective April 14th, bars, restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments in Milwaukee can no longer provide a plastic straw by default — meaning to all customers. Customers can request one and establishments serving smoothies and other drinks where a paper straw doesn’t work well can also provide one. Pre-packaged items with straws are also exempted.

“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 Alderman Cavalier Johnson in September. Johnson introduced the proposal, which was adopted by the council in November.

The intent is that businesses would convert to using paper straws.

“For those folks that are concerned about having their liberties restricted in any way this just changes what the default is,” said Ald. Scott Spiker in summarizing the intent of the legislation in November. “It’s encouraging you to do the right thing and some of us need to have the default set to do the right thing.”

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 law restricts municipalities from regulating the commercial use of plastic bags or other “auxiliary containers” such a cups, bottles or other packaging.

The regulation was given a delayed implementation date to allow businesses to deplete their supply of plastic straws. But the COVID-19 pandemic and “Safer at Home” order has shuttered many businesses and converted others to carry out or delivery only. With restaurants serving takeouts only and many bars shuttered, it’s possible they have a stockpile of plastic straws remaining.

And when they open again, they’ll be able to exhaust their plastic straw supply without a fine. The ordinance includes no stipulated penalty for non-compliance, but this can be grounds for the city to revoke or suspend the license of a business that doesn’t follow the order.

A host of area restaurants have swapped plastic for paper already, with La MerendaEngine Company No. 3, LuLu Cafe and the Hi Hat tavern among the first. 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 the sand on ocean beaches across the globe.

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.

The ordinance was sponsored by Johnson, Jose G. PerezRobert BaumanNik KovacNikiya DoddRussell W. Stamper, IIChantia Lewis and Khalif Rainey. Ald. Robert Donovan was the lone council member to vote against its adoption.

Milwaukee isn’t alone in its straw regulation. Wauwatosa adopted an ordinance last month and Madison adopted one in February.

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Related Legislation: File 190942

One thought on “City Hall: Plastic Straw Ban Went Into Effect, Did Anyone Notice?”

  1. B says:

    I am glad to see this common sense step being taken. Those who still need straws can still get them but the default is the environmentally friendly option.

    As a side note the 2016 plastic bag restriction mentioned in the article really gets my goat. Party of local control my foot!

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