Meet Washington’s Plastic Straw Cop

"Obviously there will be some holdouts"

With all the municipal governments banning the use of plastic straws, somebody has to be the guy that enforces it. In our nation's capital, that man is Zach Rybarczyk, an inspector for the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, who goes from restaurant to restaurant issuing notices to any violators, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Rybarczyk described his recent patrol of D.C.'s Union Station food court, where one violator, the Chinese restaurant Lotus Express, was issued a warning: Should the restaurant fail to eliminate their stash of plastic straws, they would be fined up to $800.

"At Lotus Express, the inspector, one of three dispatched by the city to check cafeterias, bars and restaurants, scribbled the restaurant's name on the paper sleeve of the plastic straw and tucked it into his back pocket, along with two others from scofflaw restaurants," reports the Anchorage Daily News. "He planned to later check whether they floated in water, another telltale sign of prohibited plastic."

Julie Lawson, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser's Office of the Clean City, told the Anchorage Daily News that plastic straws will soon become as socially unacceptable as tobacco.

"It's pretty absurd the amount of resources we put into creating plastic materials that we are using for five minutes to an hour, and then never again," said Lawson. "Single-use plastics are taking the same cultural place as tobacco, where it's socially unacceptable."

City officials claim that plastic straws pose a problem to the local Anacostia and Potomac rivers because they are too small for common recycling machinery. The city allegedly cleaned 10,000 plastic straws out last April during the 30th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

Laura Cattell Noll of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, a local environmental group, told the D.C. Council that plastic straws in the street end up in the water system during the rain seasons.

"Plastic pollution that ends up on the street is carried by rain water into storm drains and eventually into streams and rivers," said Cattell Noll. "In many cases, this stormwater is untreated, leaving local waterways choked with plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic bottles and plastic straws."

Keith Christman, managing director of plastics markets for the American Chemistry Council, told the Anchorage Daily News that a complete ban on plastic straws goes too far, noting that one material will just be substituted for another.

"We don't think the ban is the right approach because it ends up substituting one material for another," said Keith Christman. "What we need to do here is reduce waste and not take a straw when you don't need one."

While some restaurants in D.C. have complied with the ban by switching out plastic straws for compostable material, the city's straw cop Rybarczyk says that other establishments are completely dumbfounded about the new law when he confronts them.

"Obviously there will be some holdouts until July, when we start issuing fines. But it's most fair to give businesses a heads up," said Rybarczyk.

Rybarczyk uses only metal straws when he goes out and keeps one for personal use in his backpack.


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