Seattle is set to enact a ban on plastic straws and utensils.
All businesses that sell food or drinks must offer compostable or recyclable options — or ask patrons to forgo the tools altogether — come next July as part of a citywide ordinance to curb plastic waste across the city.
The ban aside, about 200 retailers have agreed to make the switch this month as part of an industry-led campaign, dubbed “Strawless in Seattle,” to prevent the plastic from polluting ocean waters and threatening marine life. It is among similar efforts by advocacy groups in cities spanning the country, from San Diego to Miami.
“When you get your iced latte, you’re going to get a straw. When you go get your mojito, you’re probably going to get a straw,” said campaign leader Dune Ives, executive director of The Lonely Whale Foundation. “Once we start observing our daily life, it’s really easy to see how quick” the plastic adds up.
Supporters of the push say the change will save 1 million plastic straws from circulating in Seattle this month alone. That many straws end to end could nearly cover the distance from Seattle to the Canadian border.
Many places across the city have made the switch from plastic to compostable straws, utensils and other items, including CenturyLink Field, Safeco Field and Columbia Tower’s Juicy Café, for example. Other local restaurants, such as Kidd Valley, are in the process of phasing out plastics. Costumers can expect the trend to grow.
“When they go to a restaurant they may not get a straw — and that’s OK,” Ives said, shortly after a Thursday-morning event at the Seattle Aquarium to raise awareness for the September campaign. “They’re a part of this.”
Seattle’s ban on plastic straws and utensils is part of a 2008 ordinance that phases out various plastic products from the city’s food industry, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) spokeswoman Becca Fong said. Grocery and supply stores are not included.
SPU officials revisit the list each year, creating exemptions for certain plastic items — such as straws and other utensils. But come June 30 they will let that exemption expire, Fong said.
Restaurant leaders for years have supported a switch to remove the plastic tools from the ordinance’s exemptions, she said. But they waited until the supply market advanced enough to provide good alternatives, like compostable spoons that will not melt in hot soup.
“Seattle is a super-progressive city, and we had a lot of support for phasing some of these things out,” Fong said. “But the market had not caught up.”
Via mailers and outreach events, SPU is reaching out to business owners to help them prepare for the switch from plastic straws and utensils, she said. The agency will also host a public-comment period.
At this point, it is unclear if the city will allow a grace period for places to swap out plastic supplies after the ban takes effect in July. Also unclear is whether the city will fine businesses for serving the plastic items.
When city leaders banned plastic grocery bags in 2012, retailers faced potential fines of $250 for failing to comply.
“We hope to be successful in our outreach efforts and help all food-service business make the transition,” Fong said of the ban.
As part of that push, SPU is working with leaders of the campaign to protect whales, turtles, seabirds and other marine life, led by the Lonely Whale Foundation.
The advocacy nonprofit launched “Strawless in Seattle” this month with support from big-name influencers, including the Seahawks, Mariners, Space Needle and Port of Seattle.
Participants will use straws by one manufacturer, specifically, called Aardvark Straws. The foundation applauds Aardvark for making “flexible, customizable, durable and marine degradable paper straws that decompose in just 45-90 days.”
More than 170 species of marine life are affected by ingesting debris, according to biologists.
Researchers estimate that more than 70 percent of seabirds worldwide, for instance, have swallowed plastic at some point, according to a 2015 research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We are living during a critical turning point for our ocean, and that’s why I’m excited to celebrate the city of Seattle as a true ocean health leader,” he said in a news release. The nonprofit is set to launch similar campaigns in cities elsewhere, too.
The movement nationwide to stop plastic straws from polluting seas took off after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral online in 2015. More than 12.8 million people have viewed the clip. Another popular video shows a sea turtle harmed by a plastic fork.
Manhattan Beach outside Los Angeles has banned all disposable plastics, including straws, The Washington Post reported.
Berkeley, Calif., is also considering a ban. And restaurants in San Diego; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Asbury Park, N.J.; New York; Miami; Bradenton, Fla.; London; and British Columbia have pledged to ban straws or withhold them until patrons ask for them, the newspaper reported.