Emily J. Sullivan
To use a straw or not to use a straw? That is the question. While initially some may have rolled their eyes at the straw ban proposal, the idea has since gained traction and now is law.
Last month, the California legislature passed a bill that bans full-service restaurants from giving out plastic straws without a customer request, penalizing offenders in an attempt to save the turtles.
Roughly 500 million disposable straws are used by Americans daily, according to EcoCycle.
That’s enough to fill 125 school buses.
Many of these straws have ended up in the ocean and consequently in the stomachs of sea mammals, and even in fish sold at the grocery market.
And of course no one who’s seen it can forget the graphic and scarring video of the marine biologist removing the straw from the sea turtle’s nose as it grimaced in pain.
“I think environmentally it’s a good idea, it should have a positive outcome,” said Dominic Savaglio, barista at Cactus Coffee. “After they started charging for plastic bags, people got used to it, and I think it was effective.”
Although Cactus Coffee is a coffee house and therefore exempt from the plastic straw ban, they have joined the movement along with Starbucks, and have ceased handing out straws with each order, leaving it to the patron’s discretion.
The bill prohibits full-service restaurants from handing out straws and penalizes said restaurants with a first and second-offense notice of violation. Third-strike violators, however, will be fined $25 for each day the restaurant is in violation, up to an annual maximum fine of $300.
“Fines for giving out a straw seem a little far-fetched,” said Ronaldo Alvarado, manager of Lordsburg Taphouse. “There will be penalties, I’m sure, but what about people who forget to charge 10 cents for a grocery bag? Will they get the same consequences? We could turn to biodegradable straws instead but they are exceptionally more expensive.”
“If they want to fine a waitress for giving out a straw unprompted, they should make straws illegal entirely, switch to paper straws or look at the companies making the straws,” said Tatum Cooper, a server at Roberta’s Village Inn.
While Seattle’s ban has offenders penalized with fines from $100 to $1,000 and the option of a six-month jail sentence, California has taken a more pragmatic approach.
The straw policing will be carried out by the same officers authorized to enforce the California Retail Food Code.
“I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 17 and I’ve noticed that people don’t even use straws as much as you’d think, and men definitely don’t use straws as much as women. The people who do use straws seem to be adapting to the new policy,” said Amanda Riefel, manager at Fourth Street Mill. “Sometimes we’ll joke around and respond to straw requests with, so you want a turtle killer?”
Plastic straws are a huge problem, and yet they are only a tiny part of a much larger problem of plastic waste.
About 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean annually, according to the Environmental Research Letters’ 2015 global inventory of small floating plastic debris.
A study published this year finds the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” an island of plastic floating between California and Hawaii, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles, or twice the size of Texas, according to the study published in March in Scientific Reports, an online open access journal.
Emily J. Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.