The city of Milwaukee is following the trend of limiting access to plastic straws, but they aren’t issuing a strict ban.
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council approved an ordinance that would prohibit the city’s food and beverage establishments from handing out plastic straws to customers. The only exception will be for people with limited physical abilities who may ask for a plastic straw.
The policy sponsored by Alder Cavalier Johnson, met little opposition during the Common Council meeting. Only Alder Bob Donovan opposed the ordinance and did not express the reasoning behind his disapproval.
According to Johnson, Milwaukee’s ban on single-use plastic straws is similar to bans adopted in other cities and municipalities across the nation.
"Some other communities that we’ve looked at have policies that are outright bans," Johnson said. "They are more strict, more stringent than the one that we are proposing here."
Washington, D.C. and Seattle have bans in place. Madison is considering one.
Rebecca Klaper, a professor at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told WPR that the push for straw bans came after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in it’s nose went viral.
She said that plastic in general is polluting oceans, rivers and the Great Lakes. Scientists are finding high amounts of plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic toys, small pieces of tires and even plastic fibers from clothes according to Klaper.
"It would be good for us to stop using or significantly decrease our use of single use plastics," Klaper said. "They are polluting our environment everywhere."
Johnson said the Milwaukee ordinance is another step toward environmental stewardship.
"Without a study needing to be done, anecdotally any person can see the need to cut back on the amount of plastics, particularly single use plastics," Johnson said.
The ordinance still has to be approved and signed by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. His communication coordinator, Lexi Laverdiere told WPR that the mayor supports the concept and that he will review the file. She said Barrett will likely make a decision to sign the legislation in the coming week.
If approved, the single-use plastic straw ban will go into effect on April 14, 2020.
Johnson said the city will help food and beverage establishments adjust to the change during the grace period.
"Businesses are always welcome to reach out to our environmental collaboration office in order to see what products may be on the market right now that would allow them to be in compliance with this ordinance," Johnson said.
Klaper said that banning single straws is a start, but more has to be done to help the environment.
"Unfortunately we use a lot of that stuff," Klaper explained. "A lot of plastic water bottles, a lot of grocery bags, a lot of plastic containers, and they are with us forever after that. Several generations will go by before those things ever disappear."