|Zach Rybarczyk on the prowl for plastic straws|
Warning letters in hand, Zach Rybarczyk patrolled the food court at Union Station, looking for offenders.
Past Auntie Anne’s, past Johnny Rockets. At Lotus Express, a Chinese food joint, Rybarczyk peeled the wrapper from a red straw and bent the end — the telltale giveaway. Plastic.
|Better pat Elle Johnson down in case she has some hidden!|
Washington has become the latest city in a nationwide movement to ban plastic straws, and it’s up to Rybarczyk, an inspector for the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, to enforce the new law.
The straw cop left the rattled cashier at Lotus Express with a warning that if the store was still using plastic straws by July, when a grace period expires, it could be fined up to $800.
|Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson|
conspiring to commit eco-crime
$800 for a plastic straw? You must be kidding me!
Nine years after the District instituted a nickel tax on plastic bags and three years after it banned plastic foam food containers, it has turned on plastic straws — the newest target of environmentalists trying to reduce millions of tons of plastic that ends up in trees, waterways and in the bellies of wildlife. The effort has been galvanized by a viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril.
|Brooke Thomas, endangering sea turtles|
Once he starts issuing real tickets, does he get to start carrying a gun, too? Because the power to enforce a law like this ultimately comes from the state's legal monopoly on the use of force. If you don't pay the fine, they send the guys with guns to force you to.
“It’s pretty absurd the amount of resources we put into creating plastic materials that we are using for five minutes to an hour, and then never again,” said Julie Lawson, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Office of the Clean City. “Single-use plastics are taking the same cultural place as tobacco where it’s socially unacceptable.”
Straws and the District have a long history; the modern drinking straw was born in Washington in 1888, when inventor Marvin Chester Stone received the first patent for an “artificial straw” made from paper and produced them in his factory on F Street NW. Over the next century, the straw evolved from straight to bendable, from paper to plastic.
|Lana Del Rey, what an outlaw!|
But the popularity of the plastic straw, and its inability to decompose, is proving to be its undoing.
City officials estimate that plastic straws make up less than 1 percent of the trash in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. Still, they pose a problem. Their thin design makes them too small for most recycling machinery, so they end up in trash and ultimately in waterways. Volunteers collected 10,000 plastic straws during the 30th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup in April.
“Plastic pollution that ends up on the street is carried by rain water into storm drains and eventually into streams and rivers,” Laura Cattell Noll of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, a local environmental group, told the D.C. Council. “In many cases, this storm water is untreated, leaving local waterways choked with plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic bottles and plastic straws.”So, when the last plastic straw is used in Washington D.C. is used, will Zach retire into well deserved obscurity, or will he set his sights on some other trivial use for plastic to ban? If the latter, I repeat my call for the ban of the plastic tampon applicator, one of the more common items in beach garbage.
The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Naomi Wu up on time and within budget.