California Bans Plastic Straws in Restaurants, But Exempts Fast Food

September 20, 2018, 11:00 PM UTC

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today the first state-wide ban on plastic straws, marking a huge milestone for what has become a worldwide movement.

The new law that takes effect Jan. 1 covers dine-in restaurants, but allows restaurants to provide plastic straws for customers who request them and at fast-food outlets.

California, the nation’s most populous state, joins a growing list of places to ban single-use plastic straws that’s accelerated as compostable and biodegradable alternatives have emerged. Seattle implemented the first ban in a major city in July on plastic straws and disposable utensils, and other cities and have states have considered similar rules related to straws.

Malibu, Calif., pop. 13,000, came first.

In a signing message, Brown cited the general impact of plastics, and wrote, “we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products.” The fines for the straw ban are $25 per day after a few violations up to $300 per year.

No explanation was provided for the exemption of fast-food restaurants.

Many companies, including Starbucks, have also agreed to end their use of plastic straws in the near term, in some cases making paper and biodegradable alternatives available, and in others eliminating them entirely.

Scientists estimate that 9 million tons of plastic have made their way into the ocean, and 500 million to 8 billion straws litter coastlines. However, of that 9 million tons, straws may occupy just .02% or 2,000 tons.

Disabled people and advocates for the disabled have argued that there’s a significant and hidden impact of removing easy access to straws, as many people have limitations that prevent them from lifting a cup or drinking from it. Restaurants can offer straws if asked, but aren’t required to. Carrying reusable straws can be impractical for hygienic and other concerns.