California Poised to Be First State to Restrict Single-Use Plastic Straws

August 24, 2018 Updated: August 30, 2018

California lawmakers recently passed a bill to ban full-service restaurants from offering single-use plastic straws, unless the customer requests it. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, it would become law on Jan. 1.

In an effort to reduce plastic trash and pollution, Assembly Bill 1884 was introduced by assemblymen Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) and Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). The measure passed the Senate on Aug. 20 by a vote of 27-12, and the Assembly on Aug. 23 with a 50-25 vote. It was then sent to Brown’s desk.

“The bill would specify that the first and second violations of these provisions would result in a notice of violation, and any subsequent violation would be an infraction punishable by a fine of $25 for each day the full-service restaurant is in violation, but not to exceed an annual total of $300,” the text of AB1884 says.

The law would be enforced by the same officers who enforce the California Retail Code.

Fast-food restaurants are exempted by an amendment to the bill, so customers won’t have to ask for a straw while going through the drive-through or taking orders to go.

Paper straws sit on the bar at Fog Harbor Fish House in San Francisco, Calif. on June 21, 2018. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Calderon, who is majority leader in the Assembly, posted on his website: “The California Coastal Commission has recorded roughly 835,425 of straws picked up between 1988 and 2014. Straws are the sixth most common item found during organized beach cleanups. This data doesn’t include straws picked up inland or around California’s lakes and waterways.”

California’s move to restrict the use of plastic straws comes just a few years after a state ban on single-use plastic bags at food markets, liquor stores and pharmacies in 2014. In 2015, California also banned the sales of personal-care products that contain plastic microbeads, which goes into effect in 2020.

Environmentalists hope that other U.S. states will enact similar laws. In California, cities such as Davis and San Luis Obispo already require restaurant customers to ask for straws, while several cities, including Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, have passed much more strict plastic straw bans.

In addition, companies such as Starbucks, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Alaska Airlines are phasing out plastic straws. SeaWorld Entertainment has also announced that all plastic straws will be removed from its 12 locations. Visitors still will be able to use paper straws or buy reusable cups that come with straws.

Starbucks’ flat plastic lid that does not need a straw. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Opponents of the bill include Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach), who said he thinks that using a plastic cover instead of a plastic straw might create more plastic pollution and would bring more trouble and burden to business owners. He said people who litter should be at fault, instead of restaurants.

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) voted against the measure as well, saying she would have preferred incentives towards reducing the use of plastic straws instead of fines.

Assemblyman and former gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen also said earlier this year that if he was governor, he would veto such a bill.