Ian Calderon wants restaurateurs to think long and hard before giving you a straw.
Calderon, the Democratic majority leader in California’s lower house, has introduced a bill to stop sit-down restaurants from offering customers straws with their beverages unless they specifically request one.
Under Calderon’s law, a waiter who serves a drink with an unrequested straw in it would face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Calderon explained in a press release:
“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” stated Majority Leader Calderon. “AB 1884 is not ban on plastic straws. It is a small step towards curbing our reliance on these convenience products, which will hopefully contribute to a change in consumer attitudes and usage.”
Plastic is a material that lasts forever, yet 33 percent of all plastics are used just once and thrown away. Only 9% of all plastics are recycled, but due to their small size and lack of a resin code, no straws are ever recycled. After their one-time use, non-biodegradable plastic straws often end up in our oceans and waterways where they break down into smaller, micro-size pieces that are discarded into our environment. They are oftentimes mistaken as food by marine life.
An estimated 500 million straws are used in the United States every day. This number is enough to fill over 127 school buses each day and is calculated to be about 1.6 straws per person in the U.S. In a summary of all trash collected as part of California’s Coastal Cleanup Day between 1989 and 2014, straws and stirrers rank as the 6th most common item collected. AB 1884 is a step toward lowering these alarming figures and is a simple way for consumers to change their plastic use behavior.
This isn’t just Calderon’s crusade. The California cities of San Luis Obispo and Davis both passed straws-on-request laws last year, and Manhattan Beach maintains a prohibition on all disposable plastics. And up in Seattle, food service businesses won’t be allowed to offer plastic straws or utensils as of July.
The Los Angeles Times has gotten behind the movement, endorsing straws-on-request policies in an editorial that also warned that “repetitive sucking may cause or exacerbate wrinkles on the lips or around the mouth.” Celebrity astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson (always up for a little chiding) and Entourage star Adrian Grenier have appeared in videos where an octopus slaps them in the face for using a plastic straw.
The actual number of straws being used is unclear. Calderon, along with news outlets writing about this issue—from CNN to the San Francisco Chronicle—unfailingly state that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day, many of them ending up in waterways and oceans. The 500 million figure is often attributed to the National Park Service; it in turn got it from the recycling company Eco-Cycle.
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