The Madison Common Council passed an ordinance prohibiting restaurants from preparing drinks with plastic straws or stir sticks to prevent the waste of single-use plastics.
Members of the Common Council passed the ordinance Feb. 4, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. They hope the ordinance will cut back the city’s use of single-use plastics. The ordinance goes into effect in three months, after a grace period for Madison businesses.
District 12 Alder Syed Abbas, one of the main representatives of the ordinance, said the purpose of the ordinance is to reduce the involuntary use of single-use plastics, but still allows people to use straws if they need or want to.
“And if you still want to use, let’s say if you are a person with a disability, or if you are a kid, or you just want plastic straw, then you can ask and get a plastic straw,” Abbas said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, each year roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic goes into the ocean, which can lead to problems for marine life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills in 2017 received over 26 million tons of plastic waste, which never degrades and eventually becomes micro-plastic particles.
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Plastic straws are not recyclable because of their size and shape, so the straws end up contributing to the tons of plastics in landfills and bodies of water, according to Abbas. The ordinance will hopefully cut back on the amount of plastic straw waste going into Madison landfills and lakes, Abbas said.
“It’s a small step in the right direction to really make people conscious about their lifestyle and the decisions they make in their life,” Abbas said.
While most of the Common Council is enthusiastic about the positive change the ordinance could bring about, one member was not convinced.
District 19 Alder Keith Furman was the only Common Council member to vote against the ordinance. Furman wants to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in Madison, but worried this ordinance was unenforceable and infringed on the welfare of members of the Madison community.
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“I do think single-use plastics is an incredibly big problem and we definitely need to change behaviors, I just don’t think this is the particular way to do it,” Furman said.
Furman said one of the big issues with the ordinance is how it will be enforced, adding there is no plan to enforce it.
Abbas said members of the Council and city officials discussed the issue of enforcement. But Abbas stressed the ordinance was not about punishing businesses, but about educating them against single-use plastics.
“There will be more focus on education and if, after that education, still they are not changing their behavior and keep doing the same thing, then we will give a citation,” Abbas said.
Furman said educating businesses about alternatives to single-use plastic and the impact on the environment may be a more effective strategy to combat use of plastics.
As a result, Furman decided to create an education or certification program to minimize city-wide use of single-use plastics. Furman believes educated businesses will make the change to more environmentally friendly practices.
“I think what we can do as a city instead, is look to put together an education and/or certification program where we encourage businesses to be better about wasteful products,” Furman said. “The idea is to give the businesses a tool that makes that realistic.”
Furman said another reason to vote against the ordinance is because of the possible impact on the disabled community within Madison.
Despite the constant discussion between Alders and the Disability Rights Commission, the ordinance barely passed through the Commission, Furman said.
Jason Glozier, a disability rights and services program specialist with the Department of Civil Rights, said the Commission was particularly concerned by the possibility the ordinance could further stigmatize people with disabilities. The Commission worried the ordinance would force people with disabilities into uncomfortable situations, Glozier said
“In reality, it may be something that they absolutely, necessarily need in order to participate in goods and services that are offered by a business,” Glozier said.
Abbas said the ordinance was originally more hardline — restrictions were stronger and fines for businesses were larger. After talks with the Disability Rights Commission and businesses around Madison, a new, less restrictive ordinance was agreed upon by all invested parties.