California Cities are Banning Plastic Straws and It Sucks

Straws1On July 24, San Francisco city officials unanimously passed an ordinance forbidding the city’s restaurants and bars from giving customers plastic items, including straws, cocktail swords, and takeout containers treated with fluorinated chemicals. The ordinance will have to be voted on a second time and if it passes it’ll go to the mayor for approval.

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San Francisco will be the second major city to take steps to ban plastic straws, joining Seattle in spearheading the ever-growing anti-straw crusade. Malibu, Santa Cruz, Manhattan Beach and San Luis Obispo — all in California as well — have also passed plastic straw bans. Santa Barbara not only banned plastic straws, but compostable straws too.

Local governments aren’t alone, as a handful of businesses have taken a stand against plastic straws. Starbucks is perhaps the most high profile company who has decided to ditch straws in exchange for strawless plastic lids. On July 9, Starbucks announced that by 2020 it will eliminate over 1 billion plastic straws from all its stores. Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels Corps and Hilton Hotels all have made similar commitments.

While plastic straw bans may make people feel good and think they’re saving the environment, in reality, they hardly make a dent in overall plastic pollution.

For one, the number of plastic straws used by Americans on a daily basis is in dispute. Like several other ban proposals, the San Francisco ordinance cites a statistic that Americans go through 500 million straws a day. Reason writer Christian Britschgi tracked down the source of that number: a nine-year-old boy.

In 2011, Milo Cress conducted a phone survey of straw manufacturers. Now 16, Cress told Britschgi that the National Restaurant Association has endorsed his estimates in private.

But, as Britschgi points out in his article, the number of straws used each day isn’t as important as knowing how many actually end up in our waterways.

“We don’t know that figure either,” Britschgi writes. “The closest we have is the number of straws collected by the California Coastal Commission during its annual Coastal Cleanup Day: a total of 835,425 straws and stirrers since 1988, or about 4.1 percent of debris collected.”

A 2015 study published in Science calculated out of 275 million metric tons of plastic produced from 192 coastal countries in 2010, anywhere between 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entered the ocean. East Asian and Pacific countries were responsible for the majority of plastic pollution with China, Indonesia and the Philippines topped the list of plastic polluters. China contributed 27.7 percent of all mismanaged plastic waste compared to the United States which was responsible for 0.9 percent.

The researchers point to improving waste management as the solution to the environmental problem. Countries like the Philippines and China need to invest in infrastructure to better deal with waste and recyclables. Without these improvements, plastic pollutions will dramatically increase.

Out of the top 20 countries contributing to this problem, 16 are middle income countries “where fast economic growth is probably occurring but waste management infrastructure is lacking.” Addressing those infrastructure problems could make a major difference in plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

But reforming waste management infrastructure in countries halfway across the globe is a massive project requiring far greater effort than banning plastic straws. City officials, like those in San Francisco, are taking a largely symbolic stance when they ban plastic straws. This wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t mean restaurant or bar owners faced fines or even jail time for providing plastic straws to customers.

First time offenders of the San Francisco ban face a written warning, but after that they can be hit with fines anywhere between $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for repeated offense. In Santa Barbara, a second violation of the code means a $100 fine and a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is punishable up to a max $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

The Santa Barbara City Council is reconsidering the ban to include an exemption for those with disabilities who rely on straws to enjoy their drinks.

There’s a reason most businesses give their customers plastic straws: they’re relatively cheap and people want them. Companies like Starbucks are free to eliminate plastic straws from its stores if it wants to, but imposing that same choice on all businesses, big and small, is wrong.

Wanting to protect the environment is a noble goal, but good intentions don’t always translate to good policy. The market could provide the environmentally friendly goods that consumers want if the government wasn’t busy micromanaging every aspect of it.

Reusable or biodegradable straws — although far from perfect — are increasing in popularity and could prove to be the answer to our plastic straw woes. Or perhaps the plastic straw alternative has yet to be invented, but in any case, providing people with better options instead of depriving them of choice is the key to shaping consumer behavior. It could even make the oceans that much cleaner.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal. Follow her on Twitter @LynnMarch007.


  1. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    As a customer (and NOT a restaurant employee or owner) perhaps I should bring a giant box of plastic straws with me whenever I dine and hand them out to fellow customers ? To quote the phony Libtards rally cry right BACK at them,, “RESIST ! “

    • ScullyRose says

      Or bring your own reusable straw, or no straw (why do you need one?!) or the restaurant can provide paper straws like back when I was a kid…It may be a small part, but this is just the beginning. Next we should eliminate plastic cups and lids..

      • Are you serious? Do you realize how much plastic waste you generate? And you think a tiny little straw is going to make a difference? LMAO IF YOU WANT TO MAKE DIFFERENCE, BAN PLASTIC BOTTLES, BABY DIAPERS, PLASTIC CUPS AND PLATES…oh wait..going to far for you if it affects YOUR comfort?

        This is the most idiotic BS I have seen come out of whacko SF so far.

  2. The really stupid part of all this is that it only affects sit down restaurants and bars where people do not leave with their drinks and the straw gets thrown in the trash. It does not affect fast food where almost everyone leaves with their drinks.

  3. The technology is available to completely recycle into useful material the vast majority of the stuff that ends up in landfills and the ocean. USA is not the source – China and African countries are the big polluters. The weenies aren’t interested in them. They’re already under totalitarian rule.

  4. Yesterday, it was pull-tops on soda/beer cans dropped over-the-side by boaters; Today, it is plastic straws; Tomorrow?????????
    Without an impending environmental disaster (weren’t coastal areas supposed to be underwater by now?), the Environmental Movement would be unmasked for the clown-show it is.

  5. Stephanie Hart says

    Used needles on the street? Okay. Feces on the street? Okay. People sleeping in the transit tunnels? Okay. Break ins on cars? Okay. But plastic straws — verboten. The City has completely lost its mind.

  6. Mr. Pickle says

    The acronym of San Fran is SF. I think it should be Stupid Fanatics. Once again, the “salt water” infused air of SF ilk, creates yet another “nanny regulation” of a perfectly fine recyclable product……….. As Stephanie states, SF officials should be working on REAL issues related to human waste on the streets, garbage and drug related product like waste needles from druggies (Didn’t we get Needle Exchange Monitors)
    and continued vagrancy……. Don’t the officials have more important things to do than waste taxpayer monies on crap like this….. WHAT is the matter with the taxpaying residents who should be screaming bloody murder over things like this to the City officials…………. Stop electing political hacks with mental issues to run your city…… I don’t go there anymore due to the filth, pan handler bums, lousy streets and parking costs, let alone way over priced everything………..

  7. Steven Davis says

    What sucks, the straws or the prohibition against their use and/or possession? That is one heck of a headline, giggle.

  8. ms. right says

    I love black iced tea, not good for keeping teeth white so I love straws. I guess I’ll have to put them in my car next to the plastic bags I use for groceries (bought at Amazon by the 1000). Cali is driving people out.

  9. More idiotic virtue signaling…
    Ms. Right is right… Cali is driving people out…
    So glad we still have plastic grocery bags in Colorado…for now…

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