efe-epaBy Alfonso Fernandez Washington

Washington, the city where straws were patented 131 years ago, is banning plastic straws this week in a move aimed at protecting the environment.

Few know that this slim tube in its modern version was patented here in the US capital in 1888 by its inventor, Marvin C. Stone, following his annoyance with the cylindrical ryegrass stalks used previously.

He came up with straws made of paper with a wax coating that in the next century were substituted with plastic, whose use quickly spread across the country in the 1950s and 1960s.

So it is perfectly understandable that the city where the drinking straw was invented, home to some 700,000 people and the seat of the US federal government, has now decided to suppress them.

This is the second big city in the US to ban them after Seattle did so in 2018.

The United States alone is estimated to use more than 500 million straws a day, at a time when the global avalanche of plastic threatens the planet.

The supervisor of the program in the capital, Katherine Antos, noted earlier that "the recent straw ban is just the latest chapter in the District's efforts to eliminate single use plastic that enters our communities and enters our rivers and streams."

The Washington government offered a six-month transition period which ended this Monday, so from now on businesses that fail to offer alternatives made of paper, natural straw or aluminum could be subject to fines between $100 and $800.

The initiative, however, has caused complaints among consumers in Washington because they consider that the recyclable materials used, especially paper and cardboard, don't work all that well.

At Mi Casita Bakery, a Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant in the Columbia Heights neighborhood where a large part of the population is Latino, they are already using paper drinking straws.

The restaurant manager Alberto Vasquez said they have been telling customers about the change over the last few months so it wouldn't take them by surprise.

"It's a process we've applied for over six months - above all it's the customers who have been adapting. They're not used to organic straws made of paper. But they have to understand that DC is trying to protect the environment," Vasquez told EFE.

The manager noted that it's "a good measure" because most used straws "are thrown in the river" and that anyway, the new materials are not such a radical change.

"When cardboard gets soaked it tastes a little different, but it's no big deal," he said.

Among his customers was Javier Sandoval, who came to the US from Mexico 30 years ago, and who tried one of the new straws for the first time with his soft drink and an order of guacamole.

"I've been in Texas, Virginia and North Carolina and I've never seen these. But they ought to work better than they do, because as you can see they fall apart," Sandoval said in expressing his doubts about the new straws being any good at all.

"What they have to check is that there are no old cars billowing out smoke, and that people separate organic from inorganic trash. What use is a paper straw if you then drive to Virginia in a car?" Sandoval said.