The EU just proposed a ban on the plastic straws and cutlery that litter our oceans and end up in landfills. Is the U.S. next?

Elisabeth Sherman
May 30, 2018

On Monday, while most of the country was kicking back and celebrating Memorial Day, the European Union proposed a ban on plastics—in particular utensils and straws—that are clogging the world’s beaches and oceans with litter. The ban would be the first major move by a world power to help curb the amount of plastic people use in their daily lives.

The proposal didn't come out of nowhere, however. Over the past few months, there has been a growing outcry to ban plastic—especially plastic straws—from not just individual businesses but also entire cities. Alaska Airlines says it will start phasing out plastic straws this summer. Oakland recently approved an ordinance to limit plastic straws in restaurants. Just last week, Vancouver passed a law to ban plastic straws starting this fall, and the list goes on.

Here are five things you need to know about efforts to limit plastic in food service.

The EU’s ban is still in the early stages

As CNN Money reports, Monday's proposal still needs to be approved by every single member of the EU, as well the European Parliament, which means that the ban likely won’t go into effect for another three to four years. It would also do more than just ban plastics: If the new law is put into effect, plastic producers would “bear the cost of clean up efforts,” and EU countries would have until 2025 to collect and properly recycle plastic water bottles. 

New York City wants to ban plastic straws, too

One of the city’s councilmen, Rafael Espinal Jr., who represents several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, recently introduced a bill that would ban plastic straws, as well as those mini red straws that you use to stir your coffee, from restaurants, sports stadiums, and cafes. According to Grubstreet, he has called plastic straws a “luxury” that is “causing great harm to other environments.” For the moment, the city council predicts that the bill won't have any trouble being passed.

Chefs support the movement

A New York-based non-profit arm of the Wildlife Conversation Movement called Give a Sip encourages businesses to get rid of single-use plastic straws—and restaurant chefs are on board. The straws, Give a Sip argues, don’t end up in the trash, but in the ocean, ruining the local wildlife’s natural habitat. The Dead Rabbit, Eataly, Café Boulud, Luke’s Lobster, as well as many other New York City restaurants, have already signed on as partners.

McDonald’s is feeling the pressure to enact a ban of its own

On Thursday last week, shareholders of the fast food chain voted to keep using plastic straws at its more than 14,000 locations nationwide. That’s not the end of the conversation, though. McDonald’s insists that some of its locations do use compostable straws and that the company is looking into further alternatives to replace plastic straws in the future. In the United Kingdom, however, the chain will start phasing out plastic straws, replacing them with a paper version, according to a statement made last week.

Plastic—straws or otherwise—is just the first step

Plastic straws are just the tip of the iceberg. Starbucks recently announced a $10 million initiative to design a compostable coffee cup. Dunkin Donuts has vowed to phase out its Styrofoam coffee cups by 2020. Chipotle made a similar promise, though admittedly vaguer: The chain recently announced that it will cut back on food and packaging waste that usually ends up in landfills by 50 percent.