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DC straw ban already on the books?

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We told you earlier this week how the D.C. Council is considering legislation to ban plastic straws in the District. But that law may already be on the books and some have suggested new legislation is not necessary.

In 2014, the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act banned Styrofoam and non-recyclable, non-compostable single-use food containers, lids, utensils, etc.

Council member Mary Cheh acknowledges it did not explicitly ban plastic straws, but she thinks this new bill is somewhat redundant.

“The Mayor right now could say, ‘Get on with it,’” Cheh said.

But when creating its regulatory framework for the law, the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment followed guidance from the Mayor's office and created an exemption for straws.

Department staff said D.C. could not just ban all plastic straws when the law took effect in 2017 - in part - because compostable alternatives were still not widely available and because some disabled Washingtonians still need straws.

D.C. DOEE Environmental Partnering & Environmental Conservation Branch Watershed Protection Division Chief Katherine Antos said, “In that case, we want to be sure that they have an alternative that's better for the environment and a compostable straw is. Because if a compostable paper straw does make it's way into our waterways, it will biodegrade and be safer for wildlife than the plastic alternative.”

Many local businesses and major corporations like Starbucks and Marriott are promising to phase out plastic straws.

“There are alternatives. So they simply get a new vendor,” Cheh said.

Environmentalists are hopeful even more consumers and companies will join the last straw movement. Just this spring, volunteers with the Alice Ferguson Foundation collected nearly 10,000 straws during April clean-up events in the Potomac watershed.

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“Straws are light and they float quickly and roll downstream before we can even find them,” said Rock Creek Conservancy Executive Director Jeanne Braha. “All of the trash that comes through Rock Creek eventually feeds the Potomac, the [Chesapeake] Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, adding to that challenge.”

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