Short Take: Straw Cop

Strap on your Sam Browne and head for the mall. Straw cop is on duty.

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.

I’m not a straw user. Not the straight ones. Not the bendy ones. Not plastic ones. Not even paper ones. If straws disappeared from the face of the earth, it would mean absolutely nothing to me, personally. It would, however, mean a great deal to the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose.

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.

Is there training necessary for ascertaining plastic from anything else? Sure, donut glaze or Tide laundry detergent can be mistaken for narcotics, but is it really hard to figure out whether a straw is plastic or paper?

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.

Perhaps the “rattled cashier” is the owner of this Lotus Express, with the power and authority to rid his mall food court restaurant of demon straws. Or maybe this is some minimum wage kid being threatened by the Straw Cop. Of course, what to do with the ten thousand plastic straws in the box in the backroom remains a mystery, since disposing of them in the garbage would present the very harm the law banning plastic straws would purport to eliminate.

At one time, when our environmental consciousness was nonexistent and our dreams of future materials that would allow us to create a million common products easier, more inexpensively and with greater longevity was predominent, plastic was a miracle. Even from an environmental perspective, it was good stuff, as it saved trees, from which the paper that goes into making paper straws is derived. Trees are good too.

There are restaurants whose philosophical view of the world precludes them from using plastic straws.

The effort in the District has been pushed along by Dan Simons, co-owner of the Farmers Restaurant Group.

Simons never stocked plastic straws at his seven restaurants, including the flagship Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom, preferring bioplastic straws that are supposed to decompose.

But when he stuck a bioplastic straw in a container of salt water for six months and it didn’t change, he was convinced that they, too, have drawbacks.

Last spring, Simons formed Our Last Straw, a coalition of D.C.-area restaurants, bars, hotels, event venues and organizations to lobby for an end to single-use plastic straws. He said it was relatively easy to persuade others to join.

What a wonderful approach to something as banal as a straw. They’re an environment disaster? Don’t use them. Nobody will suffer too badly for lack of a straw. But of course, every prohibition needs muscle to be effective, as there always seems to be some miscreat like the cashier at Lotus Express who will be pushing heroin straws over their counter.

Not knowing Zach Rybarczyk, I have no clue whether he dreamed of growing up to be a straw enforcer, going from food court to fine dining in search of violators. In fairness, he may very well have wanted to police the environment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But every well-intended law that imposes criminal sanctions requires the force of the state to back it up.

While it may be unlikely (though hardly impossible) that any straw criminal will be gunned down for his crimes, that’s how law works. Then again, maybe they give straw cops plastic bullets for their weapons.

26 thoughts on “Short Take: Straw Cop

    1. SHG Post author

      I knew someone would bring up the disabled. The tail doesn’t wag the dog. There’s always an outlier, but it’s irrelevant to the primary policy issues.

  1. Michael McNutt

    Straws are banned here in St. Pete and when you tell a McDonalds customer no straws then police are needed.

  2. DaveL

    It’s not clear to me how a plastic straw used 1,000 miles from any sea coast is supposed to end up choking a sea turtle. The fact is most of these single-use plastics are entering the ocean from the developing world, particularly in Asia. But hey, if it helps someone signal their righteousness , go for it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Whether they end up in the nose of a sea turtle really isn’t the point. They end up somewhere, and wherever that it is, it ain’t good. But that said, the non-degradable crap gets shipped overseas now or gets dumped in the ocean, because it can’t be recycled efficiently and landfills, to the extent they take much of anything, don’t want it. So your straw could very well end up in a sea turtle’s nose, though it may be better traveled than you are.

      1. DaveL

        Landfills where I am most certainly take them. Nor are they being shipped overseas or dumped in the ocean, indeed my state accepts trash from out of state into its landfills.

        1. Jake

          Mmm, mmm. I can just smell the subterranean smoldering and boiling leachate steam. Melted plastics are good for the groundwater!

  3. Jake

    Methinks this is but the tip of the straw, as it relates to single-use plastic. Much to the chagrin of the Koch brothers, no doubt. May as well get used to it now -as there is no right to plastic, not in the original text, nor the penumbras or even the emanations.

      1. Hunting Guy

        Let’s go back to what it was in the 1700s where travelers all used their private knives, forks, and spoons.

            1. Jake

              You could have gone with any sword in history for this retort and you pick a stubby little gladius?!? Zweihänder FTW!

            2. Hunting Guy

              Kind of hard to butcher a deer with a Beidhänder.

              Fairbairn–Sykes to carve the steaks. WWII era USA mess kit to eat it.

              I expect Scott to step in and correct us on sword terminology.

        1. Rxc

          You can’t take such tools on airplanes. You can’t even take a vintage US govt-issue can opener on your keychain.

  4. RedditLaw

    The Post would have headlined this, “Soggy Straws in Foggy Bottom.” Then again, I don’t think that you like the Post.

  5. Black Bellamy

    I didn’t say anything when they came for the straws, and now they took my tiny spoon and filed down my nail. Time to spit upon my hands and hoist the black flag.

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