OKANOGAN — A bill that would outlaw single-use plastic straws is leaving a bitter taste for some local business owners.
Senate Bill 5077, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, would ban all single use straws, even if they’re compostable or recyclable.
Some local restaurants and coffee shops are already experimenting with possible alternatives/solutions, should the bill be signed into law.
Three-Fingered Jack’s Saloon in Winthrop implemented a “straws by request only” policy last year and most of the customers appear to be OK with it, according to owners Mike and Lisa Clayton.
The Claytons said they are looking for alternatives in the Methow Valley, but none of them seem ideal as cost will be the biggest factor.
In Okanogan, Free Bird Espresso has been exploring alternatives for a while such as paper, wheat and bamboo straws.
“These alternatives are definitely more expensive and not as desirable for the customer” said owner Kara Yusi. “There are also new lids for cold drinks that have hit the market. They are made so customers can go straw-less in cold drinks as well as well as hot drinks.”
Yusi said the business is still looking into cost-effective alternatives to traditional, single-use, plastic straws.
“Whatever the best option out there is, we will find it if that bill passes,” she said. “The hay straws (made of wheat stems) got mixed reviews for sure. They break easily. I don’t like paper straws, they disintegrate in mouth or drink.
“We will keep looking for the right option. Seems like there has to be a better biodegradable option,” Yusi said. “People love straws and the gold standard is the smooth plastic.”
It’s a similar situation for the Omak-based Coffee Xpress.
General Manager Sherri Dee said the espresso stand has tried biodegradable straws, but they were not favorable.
Dee said she’s not sure what the store will do if the bill becomes law, noting several customers have mentioned they do not care for hay, wheat or wax straws.
“I would probably recommend keeping reusable straws for my regular customers but would have to have something for sure,” she said. “I guess I will need to start looking at options.”
During a hearing last week, students from Kirkland’s Lake Washington High School expressed support for a statewide ban on single-use plastic straws.
The idea for Senate Bill 5077 was conceived in the students’ advanced placement government class, taught by Michael Dawson.
It was one of two bill ideas prime sponsor Kuderer agreed to work on and propose to the Legislature this session.
Effective July 1, 2018, Seattle banned food service businesses from providing disposable straws unless they were compostable or recyclable.
SB 5077, aims to reduce plastic waste in the oceans, would ban all single-use plastic straws, even if they were recyclable or compostable.
Sean Bickley, a communications specialist for disability rights group The Arc of King County, testified with concerns for those who specifically need plastic straws to drink water.
He said efforts would be better spent banning larger plastics that are not essential to some with disabilities to access hydration, such as plastic lids and utensils.
“Honestly I’m just very horrified because I’ve mostly heard people who are not affected by this issue assume that everything’s going to be fine.
“Name dropping the disability community doesn’t mean anything if you’re not going to listen to us,” said Bickley. “The disability community has opposed straw bans, including in Seattle.”
Committee chairman Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, acknowledged that Kuderer requested an early hearing date to open up conversations with the disability community.
The Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee also heard from the Straw Kids, a group of elementary school students and parents who have been advocating for a single-use plastic straw ban for the past year.
They have spoken to city councils in Redmond, Kirkland, Shoreline and Edmonds.
Kuderer, Lake Washington students and the Straw Kids all acknowledged the impact to the disability community and called for conversations about ways to accommodate those affected.
According to the Associated Press, straws account for two-tenths of a percent of the plastic waste that enters the oceans every year.
“A plastic straw ban is not going to be the singular policy that solves our plastic pollution problem,” Sen. Kuderer said.
“Reducing the demand for plastic straws is a concrete action we can take right now to help our environment, and honestly even the low hanging fruit is worth picking.”