California Restaurants Banned From Automatically Providing Plastic Straws

Move a major victory for the movement

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California has become the first state in the nation to prohibit full-service restaurants from routinely providing customers with single-use plastic drinking straws.

Restaurants can still provide customers with plastic straws but only upon request.

The measure, signed into law Sept. 20 by Gov. Jerry Brown, is intended to prevent plastic straws from ending up in the ocean, where they have proven a hazard to marine life.  

Restaurants that fail to meet the new mandate will be fined $25 per day, up to a total of $300.

“It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw to ask for it. And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative,” Brown said. “But one thing is clear, we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products.”

At least 14 municipalities nationwide have already implemented more stringent restrictions than the California mandate. Although the specifics vary, most of those measures are outright bans on plastic straws: customers aren’t automatically provided with any sort of straw, and are given a paper one upon request. Some areas have backtracked to allow restaurants to provide plastic straws to customers with disabilities that make a paper straw unusable.

The bans elsewhere are also binding on quick-service restaurants as well as full-service establishments. 

New York City and Hawaii are currently eyeing legislation along those lines.

Many restaurant operators, from Starbucks to fine-dining legend Daniel Boulud, have already pledged to phase out nonbiodegradable plastic straws. McDonald’s has done so in some overseas markets and is testing paper straws domestically.

Operators say they usually pay more for paper straws, but the added expense is counterbalanced by many customers forgoing straws altogether and drinking their beverages directly from the serving cup, so restaurants need to purchase fewer straws.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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