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Controversial Anti-Plastic Straw Bill Gets Support From Environmentalists

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If passed, a new bill would make it illegal for servers to offer plastic straws with drinks unless they're asked to do so. (tongpatong/iStock)

A measure that would make it illegal for restaurants in California to offer plastic straws with drinks unless they are requested is being met with a mixed reaction.

Critics are calling it excessive, while environmentalists say it’s a step in the right direction.

“We do a lot of beach cleanups,” says Nicole Kozlowski, who co-chairs the Rise Above Plastics Campaign for the environmental group Surfrider. “And I challenge anyone to go out on the beach or to walk the streets of San Francisco and not find a plastic straw. They are everywhere.”

According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic straws have been ranked in the top 10 list of items found on the beach during beach cleanups since 1989. In San Francisco, Surfrider estimates that the total weight of plastic straws that could be eliminated from the waste stream is over 4,800 pounds per day.

Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon introduced legislation last week that would make unsolicited straw-providing a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But Calderon says the bill will be amended to eliminate the penalties.


The measure, AB 1884, would apply only to sit-down restaurants -- not bars, cafes and fast-food places.

As you might expect, critics are calling it government overkill. One asked whether the measure would also apply to cocktail umbrellas.

But the bill has a serious purpose. Calderon says it’s aimed at reducing the environmental damage from tons of plastic that wind up each year in U.S. landfills, waterways and the ocean -- something environmental groups have been working on for years.

“There are so many awesome alternatives to straws,” Kozwloski said. “So it’s a relatively easy behavioral change to make.”

The easiest alternative? Sip from a cup without a straw. Another alternative, Kozlowski says, is paper straws.

“I have been a bartender for years,” she said. “I switched the bar that I work for to paper straws. And with that, we started composting everything, and we’re saving $900 a month on our recology bill.”

While Calderon’s proposal is definitely a win for environmentalists, Kozlowski says the exception for fast-food restaurants isn’t ideal.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “However, I think it would be far more effective if it included fast-food restaurants and coffee-to-go establishments.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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