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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
The plastic items that we throw away often end up on beaches and in lakes and rivers. This waste can easily kill sea life and threatens the environment with waste that won’t decompose for centuries.
Now, there is a growing movement against throwaway plastic straws. For instance, the Department of Energy and Environment in Washington, D.C., (DOEE) bans the use of plastic soda straws in restaurants. The fine for flouting the law can run as high as $800.
This local ban is also in effect for organizations that distribute free beverages. For instance, D.C. churches are not allowed to give out plastic straws or even plastic coffee stirrers.
DC Hospitality Industry Also Supporting Reduced Use of Single-Use Plastic Straws
To support the local government ordinance, a group of D.C. restaurants, bars and hotels formed a business and political organization called Our Last Straw (OLS). This group is composed of members such as Farmers Restaurant Group and Founding Farmers.
Farmers Restaurant Group noted that Americans throw away more than 500 million straws each day. Multiply that figure by 365 days in a year and you get 182 billion straws each year.
Founding Farmers has eliminated plastic straws in its restaurants. Like other members of the OLS, it is also getting rid of plastic water bottles, bags and cutlery.
DC Mayor Issued Ban on Plastic Straws and Stirrers in 2018
In 2018, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a Zero Waste set of requirements for DC food and beverage businesses that use plastic straws and stirrers. This edict went into effect on October 29, 2018, and strict enforcement started on January 1, 2019.
The edict suggests alternatives to plastic straws and stirrers, such as paper, bamboo, hay, stainless steel and glass.
DOEE Provided List to Help DC Businesses Understand New Regulations
The DOEE also provided a list of possible questions and answers to help D.C. businesses that are concerned about the new laws. This list was intended to provide more information for D.C. hospitality business owners.
Other Jurisdictions Also Banning Plastic Straws and Stirrers
Some cities and states are also banning plastic straws and stirrers. For example, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Seattle, New York City, New Jersey and Florida have banned plastic straws and stirrers in hotels, bars, airlines and trains.
McDonald’s Using Recyclable Products in US, Except for Straws and Cutlery
McDonald’s has joined the plastic straw ban in the U.K., but not the U.S. Recyclable cardboard containers are used for McDonald’s foods, but single-use plastic straws and plastic-wrapped cutlery are still available to U.S. customers.
Recyclable Plastics Vary
There are different types of recyclable plastic. For example, recyclable plastic straws are typically made from polypropylene.
According to Non-Toxic Revolution, there are seven types of recyclable plastic:
- Polyethylene terephthalate — used for plastic food and beverage containers, including water bottles
- High-density polyethylene — used for milk jugs, detergents and juice bottles
- Polyvinyl chloride — used for cooking oil bottles, shower curtains and plumbing pipes
- Low-density polyethylene — used for grocery bags, bread bags, food wraps and squeeze bottles
- Polypropylene — used for yogurt cups, ketchup bottles and plastic cooking containers
- Polystyrene — used to make Styrofoam packing peanuts and food/beverage containers
The seventh type of plastic involves any other plastic that does not fall into the above categories. That plastic is typically used in products in your home, office or vehicle.
Kids Getting Involved in Plastic Recycling Efforts
Children are also getting involved in reducing waste products and improving the environment. In Alaska, for example, a Girl Scout Shelby O’Neil talked Alaska Airlines into giving up plastics straws, stirrers and toothpicks. Previously, the airline used around 22 million plastic items yearly.
The Glad Products Company is also seeking to get children interested in the plastic recycling program. This organization created a website with a game for kids to play.
There are other innovative ways to address the plastic straw problem and help the environment. For instance, there are websites devoted to encouraging artistic projects, such as making colorful flowers, funny creatures, bird houses, or pencil holders from water bottles and plastic straws.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.
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