MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Seattle's First-in-the-Nation Straw Ban Goes Into Effect. More Will Follow.

The latest environmental craze claims another victory.

Screenshot via YouTube/Lonley WhaleScreenshot via YouTube/Lonley WhaleSeattle continues to play its role as an incubator of bad policy ideas by imposing the nation's first ban on plastic straws. First articulated in September of last year, the new ban officially went into effect on Sunday.

The law prohibits all food-service businesses, including restaurants, coffee shops, delis, and pubs, from offering any disposable straw or utensil to patrons unless they specifically request one. Should a customer ask for one, said straw will have to be not just biodegradable but compostable under Seattle's exacting city-level standards. Violators will be hit with $250 fines.

Seattleites will still probably see plastic straws around town for the next couple months, as plenty of businesses are still scrambling to make the switch to their compostable counterparts.

Caroline Lee of Young Tea, a boba tea shop in downtown Seattle, told Reason last week that she was still in the process of working with her supplier in Taiwan to make a straw that meets the new regulation. Lee says the new straws are six to seven times more expensive and fall apart from exposure to high heats, requiring special packaging when shipped by sea. She is considering having a test batch flown in by air, which will raise costs further.

Lee expressed her hope that the city would give business owners a grace period and even compensate them for the extra costs they are being asked to take on. So far, compensation seems out of the question. But there will, mercifully, be a grace period. Ellen Pepin-Cato of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)—the agency responsible for enforcing the ban—tells The Seattle Times that the focus for now would be on "continuing outreach and assistance to businesses to help them come into compliance, rather than enforcement."

As businesses in the Emerald City struggle to comply with the new straw ban, other jurisdictions are passing or seriously considering bans of their own.

Vancouver, Canada, prohibited straws back in May, much to the chagrin of boba tea shop owners, plastics manufacturers, and disability advocates (who take issue with banning an essential utensil for those who have difficulty bringing cup to mouth). Several New York City councilmembers are trying to do the same in their city, introducing legislation in May that would ban straws for everyone who doesn't need one for medical purposes.

These councilmembers are being spurred on by the Lonely Whale, an environmental group that sees straws as a "gateway plastic" that could spawn more bans of more plastic items. Lonely Whale played a crucial role in Seattle's ban with its Strawless in Seattle campaign. They've since deployed actor Adrian Grenier to make videos and co-sign op-eds demanding that the Big Apple follow Seattle's lead and ditch single-use straws altogether.

An exhausting number of celebrities and corporations are jumping aboard the craze too. From Tom Brady and Ikea to Calvin Harris and McDonald's, everyone is telling you to stop sucking and start think about the planet.

They'll sometimes claim that Americans use 500 million straws a day. Always they'll argue that ditching straws is an unambiguous good for our oceans filling with plastic. Neither argument is very convincing.

That 500 million straw a day figure—cited by The Washington Post yesterday—has been debunked as the product of a nine-year-old's research. But even if that stat were accurate, straw bans are unlikely to help the planet much. The U.S. is responsible for a tiny portion of the world's marine plastic waste (less than 1 percent), as are plastic straws themselves (about .03 percent). The best approach to the problem of oceanic plastic pollution is better waste management systems in the developing world, not bans on plastic products.

It is easy to see a parallel between this movement and the once-popular urge to prohibit or restrict the use of plastic bags. Likewise spurred on by bad stats and feel-good activism, San Francisco became the first major city to ban plastic bags in 2007, with prohibitions later moving on to the usual suspects of Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, and eventually the entire state of California. But once the easy wins were out of the way and consumers became increasingly irritated at the loss of convenience, a backlash set in. Ten states have passed preemption ordinances prohibiting municipalities from imposing their own bag bans (among them Minnesota, which overturned a Minneapolis ban). Last week the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Austin's bag ban was illegal under preexisting state law.

Something similar will likely happen with plastic straws. As the novelty of straw bans wear off and as their costs become more apparent, momentum will slow, and hopefully reverse. That will leave a handful of municipalities clinging to their prohibitions, a few states with straw ban preemption laws, and a lot of consumers and businesses hoping just to be left alone.

Photo Credit: Screenshot via YouTube/Lonely Whale

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't use straws as I am over eight years old.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Nah. He's just one of those really tough guys who snorts his cocaine off the tip of a switchblade.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Nah. He's just one of those really tough guys who snorts his cocaine off the tip of a switchblade.

  • Rock Lobster||

    A switchblade held by a squirrel.

  • Longtobefree||

    A London squirrel with a knife permit

  • The Last American Hero||

    It must get awfully messy when you grab some fast food on the go.

  • Bob Armstrong||

    Ah , the return of the milk shake mustache .

  • Rhywun||

    I'm gonna pick up the habit again, and do it right in front of gasping soccer moms. Take that!

  • BYODB||

    Out of context, this is more hilarious than it should be.

  • Just Say'n||

    And thus ends Fist's long reign of having flawless one-liners beloved by everyone.

  • Just Say'n||

    Brutal

  • Cy||

    What about the millions of people who use them to stir their coffee every day?

  • Don't look at me.||

    But you aren't stirring the bottom of the coffee.

  • JoeBlow123||

    OHHHHH SHIT SON.

  • NashTiger||

    What about the millions of illegal immigrants who are each using 1.5 straws per day? If we stopped them all from coming, it would take a huge bite out of this problem.

    Why do Woketarians hate the Earth so much?

  • NoVaNick||

    Why do progs hate children so much?

  • blondrealist||

    I don't either, unless I am having a milk shake.

  • damikesc||

    To paraphrase Churchill, never before have so many people worked so hard for so little.

  • damikesc||

    Ellen Pepin-Cato of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)—the agency responsible for enforcing the ban—tells The Seattle Times that the focus for now would be on "continuing outreach and assistance to businesses to help them come into compliance, rather than enforcement."

    Hmm, wonder how much her agency's budget is increasing to enforce this dictat.

  • NoVaNick||

    DC hired "secret shoppers" to enforce its plastic bag tax, maybe Seattle will employ secret suckers?

  • JesseAz||

    Most democrats are suckers and most aren't secret about it.

  • BowserB1946||

    No, they're suckers but don't know it.

  • NoVaNick||

    They're not suckers-they simply suck

  • Flinch||

    And they probably spent $5 to collect $1 - stupidity is a bottomless well.

  • Just Say'n||

    Christ, Van Jones has hit all time low.

    I thought being a 9/11 conspiracy theory buff was low and then he worked for CNN and I legit cried for him. Now he's pushing straw bans?

  • Cy||

    Someone has to blaze the trail for Obama.

  • So97gc||

    Pretty soon we'll be drinking from our cupped hands

  • sarcasmic||

    Think of the camels!

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Hahaaa. Is that just one dad joke too many?!

  • Rock Lobster||

    He's just making a "straw ban" argument.

    (How was that one?)

  • BYODB||


    Lee expressed her hope that the city would give business owners a grace period and even compensate them for the extra costs they are being asked to take on


    Someone didn't get the memo that she's expected to raise prices to cover the difference.

    This is an idiotic joke, but I don't expect anything else from Seattle anymore.

  • BYODB||


    Last week the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Austin's bag ban was illegal under preexisting state law.


    I do enjoy it when Austin punches itself in the face since it's also the Capitol. It's a strange place where the city itself is liberal and progressive as fuck but the actual apparatus of government is conservative. It's almost like a memo went out that activists need to live in Austin to petition against the rest of the states interests 24/7.

  • JesseAz||

    Centers of power will always attract liberals.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I met a girl from Austin in a bar who said, wide-eyed and hands a-wringin', that "the rest of Texas is just scary!"

    I just chugged my beer and walked out.

  • BowserB1946||

    Speaking as someone from the rest of Texas, Austin is just scary.

  • Rhywun||

    And Seattle residents are expected to be grateful for the opportunity to pay their fair share to heal the earth, one gram at a time.

  • Just Say'n||

    Gaia demands it!

  • Mark22||

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    If she raises prices to cover the difference, that's price gouging!!!

    /seattle prog

  • Rock Lobster||

    Raise prices? Of course not.

    It's up to the government to set prices.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    I've got nothing. The Enviro-nazis have gone beyond parody.

  • Rhywun||

    I don't even know how you put a stop to this nonsense. They will never, ever stop. But it's difficult to arrange an opposition whose goal is "stop doing stupid, destructive stuff like this".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I notice those virtue-signalling yard people in Seattle have aren't made of biodegradable materials. Just sayin.

    I'm thinking of putting one up in my yard. Still working out the language. Here's a draft:

    In this house we believe in some shit.
    The shit we believe in might be different that the shit you believe in.
    Even though the shit you believe in might be different than the shit I believe in, somehow we'll manage to get along and be neighbors.
    I'm not going to tell you the shit I believe in, and I really don't want to hear about the shit you believe in.

  • perlchpr||

    Oh, I have to admit I fucking hate those signs.

    "Here, let me be smugly self-righteous at you every time you drive by my house."

  • Ron||

    shorter version
    "I don't car what you think" or like the T-shirt advertised on this site " hi, I don't care". Mine would be "keep your crying to yourself'

  • Flinch||

    Bit long winded. We used to have 'mind your business' on our coin, but that was before the federal reserve blew up money.

  • ||

    I'd support a ban on straw men.

  • Just Say'n||

    Everyone who says this are usually the same people who don't want to ban ad hominems. I wish you people would show as much disgust for ad hominems as you do straw men.

  • Cloudbuster||

    You're only saying that because you're literally Hitler. Thus, your argument is invalid.

  • Rock Lobster||

    What have you got against homonyms?

  • BowserB1946||

    Does the ban apply to straw polls, too?

  • esteve7||

    Leftism: I won't bother trying to persuade you to do something. I'll have the government put a gun to your head instead.

    Also on the plastic bag bans at grocery store --- only in a leftist's mind is it ok to a store to charge for plastic bags, but illegal to give them away for free

  • Cy||

    Import ton of illegals from countries with streets filled with garbage. Illegals dump garbage in streets and rivers. BAN GARBAGE!

  • NoVaNick||

    Why the fuck would anyone choose to live in Seattle/SF/Portland? I really hope they all get hit by that giant tsunami soon.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Hairy women

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Hairy women

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Hairy, hairy women

  • NoVaNick||

    I included SF, so bears too

  • Rock Lobster||

    An astute, hirsute observation.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""disposable straw or utensil to patrons unless they specifically request one""

    Customer: You forgot to give me a straw.

    Employee: You forgot to ask.

    Customer: Why do I have to ask?

  • ||

    1. Take plastic straws from home, theaters, and hotels and other non-covered food-service locations, place them on tables at verboten restaurants.
    2. Request expensive disposable straws and leave them unused.
    3. Ensure that kids in your charge are well versed in the use of plastic straws and straw paper as well as moistened paper and the spitwad arts. Disposable straws are both weapon and ammunition.

    Jesus Christ people, it's not like they've banned smoking!

  • Flinch||

    And... since people in Seattle spend a good portion of their day parked on I-5, an impromptu spitball war will break the monotony.

  • Longtobefree||

    So, is there really a loophole that this applies to "food service" guys?
    Can I set up a little cart on the corner and sell single plastic straws to the disabled, and others that have a need for one?
    Or more precisely, can I start a betting pool on how fast a new law would get passed in I did?

  • NashTiger||

    I can't wait for the ADA lawsuits to begin

  • Ron||

    ADA compliant straws must submit paper work two weeks before ordering form the fast food joint

  • Cloudbuster||

    Several New York City councilmembers are trying to do the same in their city, introducing legislation in May that would ban straws for everyone who doesn't need one for medical purposes.

    Medical straw need prescriptions in NYC are going to become as common as prescriptions for "medical" marijuana in California.

    Patient: "Doctor, I have neck and shoulder pain. It hurts to lift the cup to my lips."

    Doctor: "Sounds legit."

  • Eddy||

    In the old days it would be "I need a straw to sip my medicinal liquor."

  • Ron||

    straw black markets next. the cartoon antics of swat team raids on a house for illegal straw purchases

  • Cloudbuster||

    If I lived there, at every restaurant I'd be like

    Me: "Give me straws. Give me LOTS of straws."

    Server: "But you didn't order a drink."

    Me: "And? Chop, chop. Hurry up with those straws."

  • Don't look at me.||

    No need to order anything at Starbucks. Just hang out and shoot straw wrappers.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I wonder how the mandatory diversity training has prepared Starbucks employees to deal with straw-wrapper shooters.

    "Section 4.23
    Customer-Weaponized Packaging
    ...
    vii(a) In the event of straw packaging misuse and wanton and dangerous conversion to projectile weaponry of any Starbucks® beverage consumption apparatus provided directly or indirectly to customers or persons present not employed in any branch of Starbucks® any employee of Starbucks® on encountering said act of terror and misuse of Starbucks® beverage consumption apparatus must immediately contact the police.

  • Flinch||

    Well... hate starbucks? Your investment of about $5 gets you about 200 straws. Pop them in place at the opportune moment, and that turns into a $250 fine? Sweet - we finally found a way to tax the progs.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Personally the research I conducted confirms the figure reached by nine year-old academic Milo Cress because I phoned twice that many people just in the tri-county area here and they all told me that they throw at least one straw a day directly into the ocean while screaming "FUCK YOU, MARINE ORGANISMS!"

    I thanked them for their time and entered my data into a spreadsheet in Microsoft Word which my dad helped me with and we made a big box at the bottom with a picture of a whale that says "STRAWS ARE KILLING ME" which was very convincing and teacher said I did a good job and I got an A and I told my dad and he said he would like to get a "BJ" from her and I had never heard of that grade but I don't think it is better than a A which I got but my dad is clever so i told him he would get an A too and I told the teacher and I told her what my dad said and some people from thr government came to talk to my dad and they took me with them to another mom and dad who aren't my mom and dad and i just want my dad even if teacher won'y give him a A or. BJ or whatever

  • Johnimo||

    Your journalist talents are superior, un-Idaho.

  • Olga||

    While the term "gateway plastic" is silly, there is a serious problem (outlined recently in National Geographic) that the oceans are suffering from too much plastic. It isn't unreasonable to work to reduce single use plastic containers and convenience items like straws. Such items can be made with materials the degrade more quickly and if they end up in the ocean, become compost rather than pollution. I think rich countries should join together and clean up what we can (as currents put huge amounts of plastic in specific locations), encourage better waste management for all countries, but also a reduction of using plastic for single use items isn't an unreasonable approach either. Maybe carrots (tax breaks) rather than sticks (taxes/regulation) would be a better approach.

  • esteve7||

    how much of that plastic is from the US? It's my understanding most of the plastic is from less developed countries with improper waste disposal. So any plastic bans here are going to have almost no impact whatsoever

  • Qsl||

    Ya, per a recent Kurzgesagt vid, 90% of the plastic that ends up in oceans comes from like 10 rivers (none of them in the west).

    They also made the point that after a fashion of thinking even disposable plastic bags are "green" in that they have less environmental impact than reusable bags (and I can't help but wonder if the same applies to plastic straws).

    The big takeaway was that there was no easy answers, just tradeoffs, and maybe the time and effort put towards a straw ban could have been better spent someplace else.

  • flyfishnevada||

    When did having an actual impact matter? It's the caring...or rather the appearance of caring that matters.

  • damikesc||

    So, inconvenience numerous people for a change that might, best case, "fix" .03% of a problem?

    The "serious problem", again, is based on "research" by a 9 year old with no actual scientific rigor involved.

  • Longtobefree||

    Wait. You are denying actual science?
    It has to be actual science because it confirms our political agenda.
    You are a science denier! You hate children! You should never be allowed out in public without a shaming mob to follow you everywhere you go.

  • Ron||

    and other scientific studies have shown that there is far less plastic in the ocean than expected and they account for that difference by the fact that the ocean contains carbon chain eating microbes that do consume oil and anything produced from oil

  • Cloudbuster||

    "...and world peace! Thank you, everyone, I'm so proud to be here!"

  • Rockabilly||

    You'll never get my straws commie fucks.

  • Johnimo||

    They'll take my straw when they pry my cold, dead lips from around the gooey, chocolate covered superior opening of my plastic, mother-fucking STRAW.

  • Eddy||

    500 million straws a day? That's a lot of cocaine.

  • Brandybuck||

    When straws are banned only outlaws will have straws!

  • Ron||

    I see a new market for disposable sippy cup lids. it isn't a straw and it would be hilarious both as a f u to the rules and to watch the idiots that use them sucking on their adult sippy cups

  • Cloudbuster||

    I imagine there's as much (more?) plastic in a disposable sip cup lid (aka coffee lid) as in a straw, but if it skirts the bans, that just makes it sweeter.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    It is hilarious -- and instructive -- to watch faux libertarians (abortion, immigration, defense spending, gay-bashing, drug warring, voter suppression, death penalty, abusive policing, torture, pre-emptive invasion, etc.) get this lathered up by a local ordinance steering people from one type of drinking straw to another.

    Carry on, clingers.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Ladies and gentlemen, your resident apologist for, and celebrant of any and all types of government intervention, and tyranny in all it's most vilely bureacratic forms, the People's Commisar for Misanthropy, the one and only Reverend Arty Left-of-Mao Kirkland. The man who comes back day in, day out, to prove he just doesn't understand how to live and let live. The vicious malcontent who will gladly sic the government on you to the fullest degree just for disagreeing with his doctrine of enforced "tolerance", "settled science" abortion rhetoric, or that anyone who drives a pickup and lives in "flyover states" is some kind of jack-booted "fascist".

  • damikesc||

    A ban is a plan to "steer people"?

    Intriguing.

  • Cloudbuster||

    "Steer that way," he said, gesturing with his gun.

  • Rock Lobster||

    "Do what we say or we'll cut your balls off."

    Love,
    Government

    The good Rev is just too subtle to come right out and say it. Nuance, you know.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I agree with you on this one. As long as it stays local, it's good to be experimenting with things.

    OTOH, part of that experiment needs to be observation on how well the experiment is working, so critique, even snarky, is desirable.

  • Flinch||

    It's the big picture that's funny to me. Seattle is on its way to shutting down, via an avalanche of bad ideas. They did one thing right by doubling down on stupid however: nobody is talking about their idiotic train derailment anymore. You remember - the one with tracks left open to the wild kingdom, eco terrorists, and bigfoot. It was built for "high speed" except for this one little turn out in the middle of freakin nowhere that just had to be reduced to 30mph or whatever. Somebody invented the Moron Bomb, and Seattle got hit.

  • BowserB1946||

    Looking forward to it. I remember back in elementary school--in the 1950's--one could flatten then snip the two sides of the end of a paper straw at an angle, then snip a few holes in the body of the straw. You wet and get the two pieces of the end close together. Put your fingers over the holes you cut, and bingo. It made a sort of short-lived oboe. You can't do that with a plastic straw.

  • Friedrich_von_Rothbard||

    When on earth will people realize that so many of these nonsense supposedly environmentally conscious regulations are just excuses for city governments to make work for themselves, and for condescending elitists to feel good about themselves?

    Activist organizations need something to rally behind, and demanding regulation seems to be the way of activism in this day and age. Governments are more than happy to take on more "straw compliance officers" and all the other bureaucrats they might be able to justify taking on to enforce something like this.

    All the while more and more workers who would otherwise be productive members of society get sucked into the public sector monolith to waste their labor and skills on something that actively impedes the advancement of our society. People who are likely to vote for the expansion of the institution that now pays them, thus dwindling the productive parts of economy, the parts that pay for all this nonsense, more and more. This kind of thing seems trivial and even comical, but it's this kind of thing happening over and over that eventually leads to less prosperity, less growth, lower standard of living and less opportunity. It's not just about the regulation itself - it's about the fact that the labor supply is limited, and people are going to be attracted by the healthy paychecks, benefits and job security that come with a pointless public servant position like making sure the local restaurants aren't using plastic straws.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    You vill tell me vhere you are hidink ze straw or I vill haff to look for it meinself.

    *snaps on a latex glove and lubes up the index finger*

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    We're all taking kickbacks from Big Straw.

  • BowserB1946||

    Paper straws are still consuming and disposing of raw materials. Seems like the answer is reusable straws, maybe made of stainless steel? They could even be manufactured with pocket clips like a fine ball point pen. Or less expensive could be plastic, but bright green to signify that they are reusable. Another option could be like those 'As seen on TV" shrinking water hoses. After using, the straw could shrink and fit in a little pill box. Man, the green opportunities are endless. :-)

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I want a stainless, telescopically extendable straw with knurled end pieces to assist in purchase on the straw when extending by hand. I also want the pocket clip you mentioned, along with a bright LED on the end so I can illuminate my beverage. The mouthpiece should be made of molded silicone matched specifically to my lips, and interchangeable with extra attachments in various colors. My name will be laser-engraved on it along with "MY OTHER STRAW IS AN AR-15".

  • Johnimo||

    Ooh. You've got it just right. I think you're on to something.

  • Flinch||

    That probably puts a milkshake at $500. It's not ful on Zimbabwe, but definitely headed that direction.

  • Johnimo||

    Plastic straws are reusable. My wife's been using hers for years.

  • DrZ||

    We need to do this for the straw men.

  • WillPaine||

    Such is a sane beginning; bless those children, and thank them, for they show you the way.

  • ||

    If Van Jones is shilling for this, that's all you need to know.

    Go opposite what these people say.

  • Johnimo||

    I'll be taking straws with me whenever I visit these idiot localities, and I'll be leaving them in convenient places for people to find and use. Imagine how much fun it will be to order a drink, and -- surreptitiously, of course -- pull out your very own plastic straw and use it in front of the politically correct locals. Will they come grab it out of your lips, claiming moral superiority? Should be fun to stick your hand right in their face as they try to confiscate your straw. LOL

    Suggested vergabe: "Fuck off, asshole!"

  • vek||

    I hate living in this city so fucking much... I really need to up my timeline for when I'm moving away from here. In the mean time I guess I can keep stirring shit with local libtards now and again when out drinking. It's not that satisfying to point out the logical fallacies in basically everything that they believe in, but it's somethin'.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I am happy to see the advent of easily available glass straws. I'm tired of my straw melting when drinking flaming 151.

  • edictzero||

    9 year olds, Dude.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Hey... don't fuck with the Jesus!

  • Pat001||

    According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, straw purchases are already against the law.

  • Rock Lobster||

    But until now, they weren't worth prosecuting.

  • buybuydandavis||

    " As the novelty of straw bans wear off and as their costs become more apparent, momentum will slow, and hopefully reverse."

    That's ok. "Environmentalists" will have found something new to morally preen over by then.

  • macsnafu||

    I don't use straws normally, but sometimes they come in very handy, such as for an emergency tracheotomy! It would be a shame if someone was choking and there were no straws handy...

  • MichaelL||

    Ball point pens have been proven useful in that situation. They are even tapered!

  • MichaelL||

    biodegradable plastics are available, if needed?

  • Flinch||

    Leave a typical drinking straw in the sun for a year. The UV damage will have it so fried it will disintegrate to the touch.

  • Pat001||

    The company that created the paperboard milk carton once claimed their milk cartons were biodegradable but then someone challenged them. Tests showed that in a landfill, those cartons will outlast the pyramids.

  • Longtobefree||

    In a properly designed landfill, nothing disintegrates. That is the purpose of the landfill. Stuff that goes into a landfill is not supposed to get into the water tables, or anything other than the landfill itself.

  • John Beargrass||

    Wow! making a straw from paper would be so high tech that it might take years. IMHO plastic bottles should be banned nationwide. Farm and ranch property next to highways are always getting all kinds of plastic containers and bags that are thrown from cars and trucks. Paper straws were used for years until the plastic appeared.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online