'It's bad:' Seeking pollution solutions, city leaders propose 1-time-use plastic straw restrictions

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Common Council is set to take up a proposed ordinance that would restrict one-time-use plastic straws in Milwaukee -- with some businesses already making the change.

When you sit down at a restaurant or bar and order a drink, a lot of times, it'll come with a plastic straw, no questions asked, but if the ordinance is passed, it'll be you asking the question, "May I please have a straw?"

Plastics are part of our everyday lives -- so much so we often don't think about them. Plastic straws are almost as common as dirt, but the proposed ordinance seeks to keep them from ending up in the dirt, or elsewhere.

Alderman Cavalier Johnson

"You'd be surprised when you get out there on a vessel and you see the amount of plastics that are floating around out there on the rivers," said Alderman Cavalier Johnson. "It's bad."

Alderman Johnson authored the ordinance backed by Milwaukee Riverkeeper. The Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee on Nov. 14 recommended approval with a 4-1 vote.

Alderman Bob Donovan

Alderman Bob Donovan voted against it.

"I certainly applaud your efforts, but I would like to see this be more left up to the businesses," said Alderman Donovan.

If approved, the ordinance would prohibit single-use plastic straws being provided to customers at restaurants and bars except when included in prepackaged beverages, plastic straws are requested, beverages require more sturdy straws, or the business uses compostable straws.

"We try and be careful how many we give out (of the hay straws) because they're a little bit smaller," said Joe Schratz with Punch Bowl Social.

After learning paper straws degraded too quickly, they began using straws made out of hay at Punch Bowl Social -- working towards eliminating plastic cocktail sticks completely.

"The goal for us is to have as big of an impact of keeping plastic out of the environment as possible," said Susan Quam with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. "A lot of restaurants are already doing a lot in the area of sustainability."

While the Wisconsin Restaurant Association did not 86 the idea completely, they said it should come from the state, not the city alone.

"We're at least happy that those exceptions were made, but again, you're still dictating to business how it should run," said Quam.

The ordinance was scheduled to be taken up by the full Common Council on Tuesday, Nov. 26. If approved, it would go into effect on April 14, 2020.