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DC’s plastic straw ban stirs up feelings on Capitol Hill

Deadline for compliance with straw ban is July

The Longworth Dunkin’ Donuts is one of the eateries on Capitol Hill transitioning to non-plastic straws. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The Longworth Dunkin’ Donuts is one of the eateries on Capitol Hill transitioning to non-plastic straws. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If your warm-weather routine calls for a switch from hot coffee to iced, prepare yourself. Spring is officially here, and the plastic exodus is underway, according to Roll Call’s audit of straws on Capitol Hill.

Many staffers first felt the shift at the Longworth Dunkin’ Donuts, if all the queries we got in recent weeks are any indication. “What’s the deal with the paper straws at Dunkin’?” was a popular refrain.

Here’s the deal: D.C. banned plastic straws in restaurants and other businesses effective Jan. 1, and the Hill is getting in line.

“It lasted through most of my small iced tea,” one congressional reporter said of her paper straw experience.

Other Longworth regulars were not impressed.

“The Dunkin in Longworth has made the switch to paper straws and I am not here for it,” tweeted House staffer Natalie Johnson earlier this month, with a photo of the mushy straw.

While the Longworth cafeteria and House carryout inside the Capitol have also moved to paper straws, the brand-name food options on the House side are lagging behind.

In Rayburn, both &pizza and Subway were still using plastic straws as of this week.

Strawless lids may be in store for &pizza customers as the company bypasses the paper question altogether, according to a spokesperson. The lids, which resemble those of a hot coffee or sippy cup, are already getting a tryout in some shops and are expected to debut in all locations, including Rayburn, before July.

“This actually reduces total waste and cost, as we will have no need for straws at all (and avoids the wet-paper-straw conundrum),” said Vanessa Rodriguez in an email.

On the Senate side, implementation is similarly patchy. The Dirksen spots, including the coffee shop, cafeteria and buffet, have switched to straws that look a lot like plastic but are fully compostable.

“Straw Made From Plants ECO-PRODUCTS 100% COMPOSTABLE,” reads the green text on the paper wrapper. Those are in the clear under the D.C. law.

[Congress tries to walk the climate crisis talk]

The beloved Cups & Company in the Russell Senate Office Building is still using plastic straws as of this week, as is the Senate carryout.

The recess hours of the Rayburn cafeteria thwarted Roll Call’s efforts to check out what types of straws are currently on offer there.

Eateries serving up plastic straws aren’t in violation — yet. The district has granted a grace period until July to give establishments time to make the transition before fines kick in.

The District’s straw ban actually dates back to 2014, when it passed as part of the same measure that banned styrofoam food containers. But the straw provision of the law was never enforced. That’s changing. The District Department of Energy and Environment has an enforcement team out around the city checking on bars, restaurants and coffee shops.

The team canvassed Union Station in mid-January, but it’s not clear if it’s made its way into the basement food spots on Capitol Hill.

This latest flight from plastic joins other get-green efforts in the Capitol. The food outlets on the House side run by Sodexo have in recent years moved to wooden stir sticks for coffee, instead of plastic ones, and compostable “to go” containers.

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