Legislation banning the use of plastic straws and utensils in Seattle came into action on Sunday, making the Emerald City the first major city in the US to do so.
"Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world's oceans, and I'm proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban," said Mami Hara, general manager of Seattle Public Utilities, KOMO News reported last month.
This means Seattle's bars and restaurants will have to swap plastic straws for more sustainable alternatives (think: paper, bamboo, and even compostable plastic) – or they can choose not to provide straws full stop. Any business found to be flouting the ban will be presented with a fine of up to $250. However, officials have assured local companies they will be working with businesses to make the transition to plastic-free as smooth as possible and have allowed exemptions for certain items until eco-friendly alternatives are found.
The new law is just the latest addition to a 2008 ordinance that aims to get food and drink businesses to ditch single-use plastics and start using recyclable or compostable substitutes. It was also under this ordinance that the city introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2012.
While this is all good news for the environment – not even the remotest regions on the planet can escape humanity's obsession with plastic unscathed – some are criticizing the policy, saying it discriminates against people who are disabled. There are concerns that paper and glass alternatives may not always be a safe option for people who need straws just to be able to drink independently.
"A significant number of us rely on the humble plastic straw to be able to drink a glass of water, wine or a cup of coffee,” Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, who was born without arms and legs, told the BBC earlier this year.
"It's a fundamental human right to be able to have a drink and to be able to drink it as and when you need to drink it, and to do it independently."
Others are praising the move, calling it a positive first step in tackling the world's ever-increasing plastic problem (even if it is just a first step). Eight million tonnes (8.8 million tons) of plastic trash winds its way into the oceans every year – and, if current rates are to continue, there may be more plastic than fish by 2050 (that doesn't even include microplastics.) It's not only affecting marine life, but it's hurting animals on every single level of the food chain, in the sea and on land.
Seattle might be leading the way when it comes to disposable plastics, but several other cities (including New York and San Francisco) are considering introducing a similar ban. Meanwhile, across the pond where 8 billion straws are thrown away every year, the UK government has announced plans to ban the sale of plastic straws as well as drink stirrers and Q-tips (items that are already banned in the UK’s royal estates).