On November 2018, Chicago residents voted “yes” to a measure asking them whether the city should ban single-use plastic straws, passing by an 11-point margin. Following the Election Day results, 15th ward Alderman Raymond Lopez announced his plan to introduce an ordinance for the Chicago City Council to vote on the ban. Businesses are taking notice, with Illinois Restaurants Association CEO and president Sam Toia expressing his members’ lack of surprise in the results.
Chicago-based restaurants, venues, museums and colleges have already switched from plastic straws to biodegradable alternatives like bamboo and paper straws. The Chicago White Sox banned plastic straws from their stadium, Guaranteed Rate Field, becoming the first Major League Baseball team in the country to do so. California-based food service company Bon Appetit announced that it will no longer offer plastic straws in its cafes and restaurants. Bon Appetit operates sites at the Art Institute of Chicago, suburban Wheaton College, and the University of Chicago.
If the Chicago City Council follows up on the public’s vote and passes a ban, the city will become the third of America’s three biggest cities to restrict single-use plastics. The City Council of Los Angeles recently voted to prohibit restaurants from handing out plastic straws unless requested, and the municipal government of New York City will no longer purchase single-use plastics. New York’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio has backed a bill by City Council to prohibit plastic cutlery and other non-biodegradable, single-use foodware from restaurants located in the city. Chicago is a major hub for the agricultural and restaurant industry. Among these corporations is McDonald’s, whose headquarters are located in the city. A voter-supported ban on plastic straws in Chicago could send out a strong message to the food and beverage industry that opposition to single-use plastics is gaining more ground with each day, and major changes are inevitable.
How soon Chicago’s new Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushes for a vote on a plastic straw ban remains to be seen, however a ban seems sooner than later. Chicago struggles in its battle against single-use plastic waste. The Better Government Association reported that Chicago has the worst recycling rate of any U.S. city; just 9 percent of all residential waste collected gets recycled. Chicago is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, which is already littered with unrecycled plastic waste. Unrecycled plastic waste becomes trapped in the lake, where it gets swallowed by fish, and can eventually end up in the drinking water of residents in cities like Chicago. With low recycling rates and the health of Lake Michigan at stake, Chicago has many reasons to move away from single-use plastic straws, and embrace sustainable, biodegradable alternatives.