Seattle just became the first major city to ban plastic straws

Using plastic utensils and straws now carries a $250 fine.

Seattle just became the first major U.S. city to officially ban plastic straws and utensils.

The new requirement, which went into effect on July 1, effectively bans local businesses from using plastic utensils and straws, under penalty of a $250 fine. Seattle had banned the use non-recyclable, non-compostable plastics in the foodservice industry since 2008. But over the years, officials issued a number of exemptions — including one for plastic straws and utensils. The city, however, let that exception expire on Sunday.


Now, the only exception now is for customers who need a flexible plastic straw for medical reasons, according to the Seattle Times.

The Lonely Whale Foundation, a group that pushes for the reduction of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, helped convinced the city to go strawless, through a campaign, “Strawless in Seattle,” that convinced 150 restaurants to ditch plastic.

Officials offered the initial exemptions because of a lack of available alternatives. But now that eco-friendly straws and utensils are easier to come by, Seattle didn’t have an excuse anymore. (And Styrofoam, notoriously eco-unfriendly and not biodegradable — except, maybe, by mealworms that eat it — has been banned since 2009.)

Businesses were expected to use up their plastic inventory before July 1, but the city won’t be enforcing the new requirement too stringently for the next year, according to the Seattle Times. Instead, the focus will be on compliance rather than enforcement — and helping to educate businesses and consumers about how to use less plastic.

There’s an enormous trash-island floating in the Pacific, which is now at least twice the size of Texas. And Seattle’s plastic ban is a step in the right direction, though in international waters, what’s needed is a large-scale international mobilization to curb plastic pollution across borders, according to many experts.

Canada is pushing for that solution, using their clout as head of the G7 to advocate for an international agreement on the reduction of plastics pollution.

Cover image: In this March 8, 2013 file photo, two employees of Frames Bowling Lounge in New York pose with beverages in glasses, with plastic drinking straws. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)