March 8, 2021

130 years after patenting them, Washington prohibits plastic straws

"Pitillo" in Colombia and Venezuela; "straw" in Mexico; light bulb in Bolivia; "straw" in Spain and Argentina; "Calimete" in the Dominican Republic; "absorbent" in Cuba; Whatever the name of the plastic tube used to drink from a glass is prohibited in Washington as of this week.

Few know that this device, in its modern version, was patented precisely in the US capital in 1888 by the inventor Marvin C. Stone, annoyed with the cylinders that were used until then and that were manufactured with rye.

At first they were paper on which a layer of wax was applied. With the passage of time they were replaced by plastic and its use spread rapidly throughout the country from the 1950s and 1960s.

So it is not surprising that the city in which it was invented, where more than 700,000 people live and where the Federal Government of the United States has its headquarters, now decides to decree its suppression.

It is the second largest city in the United States to ban them, after Seattle (Washington State) did the same in 2018.

"It has become standard for us to get to a restaurant and you do not even have to say anything, any liquid is immediately put in a plastic straw, and people have begun to wonder what I'm doing with a plastic that I have not ordered." explained to Efe Tommy Wells, director of the Department of Energy and Environment of the District of Columbia, where Washington is located.

Wells remarked, in addition, that they are "by definition objects of a single use, no one keeps them to be reused" and that "their small size makes their recycling excessively expensive" so that most ends up in the rivers and seas.

In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 500 million straws are used per day, and the goal is to combat the global avalanche of plastics that threatens the planet.

The person in charge to supervise the program in the city, Katherine Antos, remarked that this prohibition is "only one of the elements of an integral effort that seeks to lead the country to eliminate single-use plastics".

The Government of Washington offered a transition period of six months, which ended on Monday, so that from now on, businesses that do not offer paper, straw or aluminum alternatives will be fined, with sanctions of between $ 100 and $ 800 ( between 88 and 708 euros).

For his part, Dan Simons, co-owner of the restaurant Founding Fathers and one of the promoters of the proposal, said that the goal is to create "public awareness" so that it is "the public itself who acts as a broadcaster and says: 'Yes, no I need you, stay with her. "

The initiative, however, has generated complaints from consumers in Washington because they believe that the recyclable materials used, especially paper and cardboard, are not very functional.

At Mi Casita Bakery, a Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, with a significant percentage of the Latino population, they already have paper straws.

Alberto Vásquez, in charge of the business, indicated that they have been explaining to clients the change during the last months so that they will not be caught by surprise.

"It's a process that we started more than six months ago, and it's the clientele that is adapting, they're not used to using organic straws, which are paper, but they have to understand that it's a law and it's about helping to ecology, "Vásquez told Efe.

The merchant remarked that it is "a good measure" because many of these waste "go to the river" and played down the importance of the new materials.

"The cardboard when wet gives a different flavor, but it's nothing special," he said.

Among his clients was Javier Sandoval, of Mexican origin and with more than 30 years in the country, who tried these straws for the first time in the establishment accompanying a soft drink with an order of guacamole.

"I've been to Texas, Virginia, in North Carolina, I have not seen it, it's okay for the pollution, the less polluting the better, but it should be more effective, as you can see, it gets undone," he said, expressing doubts about the viability of the new straws.

"What they have to watch out for is that there are no old cars that emit fumes, that people separate organic and inorganic garbage, if not what is the use of a cardboard straw?" Sandoval added.

Alfonso Fernández

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