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Washington DC Plastic Straw Ban Info & Alternatives

Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during spring.

If you are a restauranteur or a bar owner, then knowing and understanding local laws around plastic straw bans and alternatives you can use in your business is essential. 

Washington, DC is the nation’s capital, and the region is becoming a leader for memorable culinary experiences with Michelin star restaurants and unique bars popping up from Capitol Hill to Adams Morgan to Georgetown. In 2018, the mayor enacted the Washington DC Plastic Straw Ban to become more sustainable and eco-friendly. 

As such, restaurants and bars have been working to discover the best plastic straw alternative in Washington, DC. While thousands of people call Washington, DC, home, many thousands more visit the District from across the country annually. Many tourists visit from cities that do not have plastic straw bans in place, so navigating plastic straw alternatives is essential to keep visitors happy and returning to your restaurant or bar. 

Being environmentally conscious, adhering to plastic straw bans, and ensuring customer satisfaction is no small task for local restaurants. Understanding the plastic straw ban and alternatives to straws can help eateries navigate the plastic straw prohibition. 

What is the Washington, DC Plastic Straw Ban? 

The movement to ban single-use plastic straws was led by Mayor Muriel Bower’s office and is called Our Last Straw; it aims to reduce plastic waste in Washington, DC. The mayor’s order says that bamboo, paper, aluminum, or glass are alternative options to plastic straws for eateries in the District. 

One caveat to the ban is rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the DC Human Rights Act. Some customers with disabilities can ask for single-use plastic straws. Restaurants, cafes, and bars are required to keep an inventory of plastic straws available to meet the needs of people with disabilities and stay in line with the law.

Are Plastic Straw Bans Common?

Plastic straw bans have passed in cities across the country, like Seattle, Washington, and Somerville, Massachusetts. Single-use plastic straws create unnecessary and hard-to-decompose plastic waste in landfills globally. 

Many restaurants would use plastic straws and stirrers for soda, cocktails, or coffee. Many restaurants, bars, and coffee houses, including Starbucks and other national chains, have transitioned away from plastic straws. 

Some places now offer paper straws. At the same time, other establishments offer lids with a lip designed for drinking the cup’s contents without the need for a straw. Restaurants and bars might consider allowing and encouraging guests to bring personal reusable straws. Some venues even sell reusable straws to customers are local cafes and eateries. 

In addition to using fewer plastic straws, some restaurants have also reduced plastic bags in exchange for more environmentally friendly delivery bag options made from recycled materials. Restaurants are making this choice due to the District’s history of ecologically friendly regulations like the tax on plastic bags and the ban on plastic foam food containers. 

Who is Enforcing the Mandate in Washington, DC? 

The DC Department of Energy and Environment is tasked with enforcing the plastic straw ban. When the law initially went into effect, some restaurants and cafes faced an initial dilemma regarding the plastic straws already in the store. 

One location in Washington, DC, threw away hundreds of straws when the ban took effect, which is counterintuitive to the mission of the city’s Our Last Straw goals. 

After the cafe disposed of the straws, the DC Department of Energy and Environment began advising eateries to keep a small stock of plastic straws for customers with disabilities, return the remaining straws to a supplier, or donate the single-use plastic straws to other businesses outside of the District of Columbia.

Alternatives for Single-Use Plastic Straws

Washington, DC is one of about fifteen jurisdictions that have banned the use of plastic straws to combat littering that contaminates waterways and fails to decompose properly. 

Finding a suitable alternative to plastic straws might seem challenging for restaurateurs and bar owners. However, with options on the market made of paper, bamboo, or metal, customers can still request a straw for their beverage. Also, special lids for cups allow customers to drink the liquid directly from the container without the need for a straw. 

Finally, restaurants can promote personal reusable straws and even sell those options at the eatery.

Final Thoughts

Food service will not dramatically change with the reduction of plastic straws. However, since guests sometimes request a straw, as a restaurant owner, it is good to equip wait staff with a standard line about the Washington, DC plastic straw ban and any options the bar or restaurant can offer to satisfy the guest’s request. 


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