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Stakeholders weigh in on proposed ordinance to restrict plastic straw use

MADISON (WKOW): A proposed ordinance in Madison would mean customers dining in at restaurants would no longer automatically receive a plastic straw from their server.

Alder Syed Abbas introduced the ordinance change earlier this month, and said it’s a way to get people in Madison to start thinking about how their choices affect the environment.

“It’s more like making people conscious about their daily lifestyle and how much their lifestyle can have a positive impact through this ordinance by removing this plastic straw from the market,” he said.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, oceans are on track to be more filled with plastic than fish by 2050. Although plastic straws are small, the fact that they are single-use is a huge part of the problem, Abbas said.

“We decided we wanted to start with the plastic straws, and then come up with other policies to reduce the plastic waste as much as possible,” he said.

But the proposed ordinance is hard to swallow for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. Executive Vice President Susan Quam said they believe the ordinance is an unnecessary burden on restaurants in Madison.

“Most restaurants in the industry have already implemented a lot of strategies to reduce waste including straws and other consumables when it works for them,” she said.

Customers would be able to ask for a straw, and they could also get a straw when they carry food out or go through a drive-thru.

The restaurant group is also concerned about the legislation’s text detailing the fines a restaurant could incur for a first offense: $200. Quam said it’s “not acceptable” to fine a restaurant that much especially when they could just have made a mistake.

“What happens if the employee asks the customer if they want a straw instead of waiting for the customer to ask?” she said. “Is that a violation?”

Abbas told 27 News that the fine would be $25 for a first offense, and a restaurant wouldn’t necessarily be fined immediately. It would take several violations, he said.

“This policy is not about forcing them to spend more money,” he said. “This is more about, if somebody doesn’t need, why do we put a plastic straw in their glass?”

They would also be self-reported by customers.

He said he has received feedback from several groups, and is currently waiting to hear what committees like the Disability Rights Commission has to say. Those with disabilities often prefer to use plastic straws, and Abbas said they do not want to discriminate against anyone who may need one.

“During our review process through committees, we will try to address those concerns and try to find the best solution address those issues with the community and make an inclusive ordinance,” he said.

Quam said they had not been included at the table for those discussions yet, although Abbas told 27 News that he had talked with representatives from the restaurant association.

“We do believe it’s not necessary, however we would be welcome to have discussions on how to make it better, make it easier for our operators to apply and achieve the goals intended,” said Quam.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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