D.C. Now Fining Restaurants for Plastic Straws, Stirrers

Selection of plastic cups with grapefruit juice and colored straws, in red, yellow, blue and green.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 07, 2019 11:57 AM

There are plenty of small businesses getting ahead of the curve on environmental causes. As it turns out, going green can be a good look (advertising-wise) and good for your bottom line (tax break-wise). But some cities and states aren't waiting for businesses to be environmentally friendly on their own, and are instituting anti-pollution measures in the meantime.

Washington D.C. became the second city to ban single-use plastic straws and stirrers earlier this year, and has begun issuing official warnings and fines to businesses and organizations that don't comply. Here's a look.

Fine Locally

"Packaging waste occupies a significant amount of limited space available in our landfills," according to D.C.'s Department of Energy and Environment. "Recyclable and compostable alternatives, however, can be reconstituted into other useful products. The District is implementing regulations on the materials used to serve food to reduce our waste and help meet the District’s goal of 80% waste reduction by 2032."

The District already banned Styrofoam packaging in 2016 and required recyclable or compostable food service ware beginning in 2017.

Estimates suggest hundreds of millions of plastic straws are used -- and discarded -- every day, and plastic straws make up about four percent of all plastic pollution found in oceans by volume. D.C. businesses can be fined from $100 to $800 for continuing to single-use plastic straws and stirrers.

Ban Globally

Seattle became the first city to ban plastic straws and utensils in bars and restaurants last year. "Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world's oceans," said Seattle Public Utilities General Manager Mami Hara at the time, "and I'm proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban." Florida is also considering prohibiting the use of plastic straws and plastic carryout bags statewide.

Municipalities aren't the only ones ditching plastic straws. As National Geographic reports, organizations and companies worldwide are self-regulating their use of single-use plastic:

Starbucks plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020. McDonald’s recently announced it will ban plastic straws at its U.K. and Ireland restaurants. Bon Appétit Management, a food service company with 1,000 U.S. locations, announced last May it will phase out plastic straws. Alaska Airlines will be one of the first airlines to phase out plastic straws and stirrers, in part thanks to an environmentally conscious girl scout.

From good P.R. to government incentives and tax breaks, there are quite a few reasons for your small business to be proactive when it comes to being environmentally friendly. For help complying with new regulations and going green, contact a local commercial attorney today.

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