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City Council approves ordinance to limit plastic straw usage in restaurants

Image By: Téalin Robinson

In a near-unanimous voice vote Tuesday night, Madison’s City Council adopted an ordinance to limit the use of single-use plastics in restaurants. 

Madison restaurants will no longer be allowed to make drinks with plastic straws or stir sticks unless dine-in customers specifically request them. 

“Single-use plastic beverage straw is one single-use plastic product that is particularly harmful to the environment because most cities, like Madison, cannot recycle plastic beverage straws due to their small size and unusual shape,” the ordinance reads. “Reducing reliance on plastic beverage straws is one way Madison can help ensure that these products, which are used briefly but can take nearly 200 years to decompose, do not unnecessarily harm the environment.”

The ordinance, designed to limit the usage of harmful plastics city-wide, does not prohibit a restaurant from providing plastic straws and stir sticks to customers getting their orders to go or making them available for dine-in customers to use. Also, the ordinance does not apply to churches, religious and fraternal organizations that occasionally serve meals. 

However, what the ordinance does do is ensure restaurant staff will only provide a plastic straw when a dine-in customer asks for one.  

Restaurants are still able to prepare drinks with straws or sticks made from materials other than plastic, such as paper.

State law doesn’t currently allow limits on plastic bottles, bags or containers. However, Ald. Syed Abbas, the main sponsor of the measure, believes the ordinance is a step in the right direction to limiting single-use plastics in Madison. 

“This ordinance is important for us on a local level,” Abbas stated. “This is a global crisis. This is a global issue, climate change. But the actions have to be taken on a local level.”

Madison’s plastic straw ordinance was introduced last summer. With input from the Disability Rights Commission, the language of the ordinance was changed to specifically allow restaurants to offer customers plastic straws instead of waiting for individuals to request them as well as ensure restaurants are not discouraged from having straws on-site for customers who may wish to use them, including individuals with disabilities who may require straws to consume a beverage.

Restaurants have three months to prepare for the ordinance’s implementation. After that, violations will be fined $25 for a first-time offense. 

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