A monumental week of reforms forged by California lawmakers saw no sign of slowing down as groundbreaking legislation was brought into effect by Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday. The statesman, who has chastised the overuse of single-use plastics on several occasions, signed a bill banning restaurants from distributing plastic straws with their customers’ beverages. While diners will still be given a straw if they specifically ask for one, the plastic straw ban could make leaps in curtailing unnecessary pollution and raising public awareness about the environmental impact of disposable straws.
California politicians such as Governor Brown agree with many supporters that the ban is unfortunately limited and easily circumvented. “It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it,” Brown noted in his signing address. “And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative.”
Beginning January 1, dine-in restaurants will no longer be handing out plastic straws with meals; however, the largest distributors, including fast food chains, delis, coffee shops and any other take-out locales, will be able to disregard the rule completely. Despite the free pass to these types of restaurants, the governor believes that in due time, Californians will likely choose to nix plastic straws on their own, regardless of legal mandates.
Plastic was invented back in the 19th century and, as Governor Brown explained, “has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences.” The politician has been mobilizing efforts to reduce and eliminate plastic consumption vehemently throughout his tenure. “One thing is clear,” he wrote. “We must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products.”
Plastic straws appeared in the early 1960s. By the 1970s, they had almost entirely replaced paper straws, the original variety of sipper. According to the California Coast Commission, plastic straws are seeded sixth in the rank of most common forms of litter found on beaches, and they threaten more than 500 aquatic species. Among these, 23 endangered forms of wildlife exist in the San Francisco Bay, where plastic pollution fed through urban storm drains are placing the animals at an even higher risk of perishing. “Plastics, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking our planet,” Brown wrote.
The California straw ban follows in the footsteps of previous legislature banning plastic bags in 2016. The state is the first in the nation to enact limitations on disposable straws. City-level restrictions are already in effect for San Francisco, Alameda, Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, Carmel, San Luis, Obispo and Davis.
Image via Joshua Sorenson