In 2008, Seattle became the first in the nation to approve charging customers for plastic and paper bags in hopes of incentivizing shoppers to use reusable bags. In 2011, Seattle imposed an outright ban on plastic bags, while maintaining a 5-cent fee per paper bag. By September 2017, the city had announced its readiness to eliminate plastic straws and utensils at local eateries.
Finally, that aspiration has been realized.
Earlier this July, Seattle became the first major city in the United States to enact a total ban on plastic straws and utensils, governing 5,000+ food service facilities. Now, the city's restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, food trucks, delis, and cafeterias are prohibited from providing plastic cutlery and expected to supply compostable options upon request only.
Businesses that refuse to comply will face a $250 fine. However, a spokesperson from the Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) states that for the first year of the ban, the city government will prioritize outreach and assistance to help businesses meet these new standards rather than exercise heavy enforcement.
This latest battle cry in Seattle's war on plastic stems from a 2008 ordinance that established a commitment to phase out throwaway plastics in the food industry. To ensure a gradual transition to no-plastic business operations, SPU officials drafted a plastics-use policy to be revisited and strengthened each year.
While local restaurant leaders have strongly supported removing plastic eatery-tools for years, SPU officials decided to wait until viable alternatives, like compostable spoons that don't melt in soup, became more readily available. Now that the market has caught up, Seattle is determined to take action against disposable plastics and encourage conversations about environmental stewardship and conservation.
While small plastic straws may not seem like much on their own, their impact adds up. Flimsy plastic straws can't be recycled easily nor do they fully biodegrade, and as a result, they often find their way to Earth's oceans and pose serious threats to marine life. Yet, while more than 170 marine species suffer from ingesting plastic debris, millions of plastic straws are used worldwide on a daily basis.
Seattle's decision to ditch plastic straws and utensils signals incredible progress in the movement against disposable plastic, and others are following suit. The Seattle-born coffee giant Starbucks has announced its plans to eliminate plastic straws completely by 2020, and San Francisco locals are pushing for similar bans on plastic cutlery.
Here at the Green Business Network, we are proud that our certified member eateries offer environmentally-friendly and sustainable utensils. You too can support the movement against disposable plastics by pledging to skip the straw and supporting local policy efforts to curb plastic waste.