California Considers $1,000 Fine for Waiters Offering Unsolicited Plastic Straws

Straws1Ian Calderon wants restaurateurs to think long and hard before giving you a straw.

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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.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon explained in a press release.

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.

Eco-Cycle is unable to provide any data to back up this number, telling Reason that it was relying on the research of one Milo Cress. Cress—whose Be Straw Free Campaign is hosted on Eco-Cycle’s website—tells Reason that he arrived at the 500 million straws a day figure from phone surveys he conducted of straw manufacturers in 2011, when he was just 9 years old.

Cress, who is now 16, says that the National Restaurant Association has endorsed his estimates in private correspondence. This may well be true, but the only references to the 500 million figure on the association’s website again points back to the work done by Cress.

More important than how many straws Americans use each day is how many wind up in waterways. We don’t know that figure either. The closest we have is the number of straws collected by the California Costal 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.

Squishy moderates on the straw issue have pushed paper straws, which come compostable at only eight times the price. Eco-Cycle skews a bit more radical, with their “Be Straw Free” campaign—sponsored in part by reusable straw makers—that urges the adoption of glass or steel straws. Because we all know how good steel smelting is for the environment.

In any case, criminalizing unsolicited straws seems like a rather heavy-handed approach to the problem, especially since we don’t actually know how big a problem it is. But don’t take my word for that. Ask Milo Cress.

“If people are forced not to use straws, then they won’t necessarily see that it’s for the environment,” he tells Reason.“They’ll just think it’s just another inconvenience imposed on them by government.”

Update: Reason spoke with Voleck Taing, a senior assistant to Assemblyman Calderon, who said they intend to amend the bill to remove the fines.

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  1. C. J. Filipicci says

    Here is another example of the Calif. law makers putting there noes in something where it doesn’t belong. Rennet the bags you get at the stores? Well we have to pay for them now why don’t these law makers start putting their knowledge to good use instead of these Bull shit law like the straws , Here an idea how about the illegal imagration in this state

  2. SEXIST leftist Calderon … why “WAITERS” … why not also waitresses … Another stupid law by a stupid lawmaker …. same goes to the stupid lying liberals in the other cities imposing this stupid law

  3. Overlook the homeless pollution and prosecute the supplier of a plastic straw. Tell me, Is Stupidity An Art, A Skill Or A Talent?

  4. trivial pursuits, but maybe $1,000 will help their pensions

  5. Bogiewheel says

    Dumb idea………However, if people did not litter, there would not be a problem. Since it’s people who litter, lets do away with people; Problem solved.

  6. another illegal plant wanna be politician

  7. paper straws?

  8. We don’t need facts, we’re Progressives, we’ve got Feelz!

  9. In the words of Milo, “If people are forced not to use straws, then they won’t necessarily see that it’s for the environment,” he tells Reason.“They’ll just think it’s just another inconvenience imposed on them by government.” Because IT IS.

  10. Sick of Calderon says

    What do you want from someone who’s in office illegally??? He does NOT live in his district. He’s a surfer – so he lives near the beach, natch!!!

  11. showandtell says

    Here’s your “ban the straw” guy, Ian Calderon. Showed up with Xavier Becerra at a town hall last October:

  12. Victoria Smith says

    Can it get more ridiculous…why, yes it can!!

    • Yes it did.
      Turns out, they got the numbers from a nine-year-old kid.
      I can’t post the link, but do a bit of searching on reason . com and they have the full story.

      • One other point being missed here. Let’s take the West Coast of Ca, who is the political majority that lives along the coast?
        That’s Right, libs! Point is, these straws don’t come from the mountain communities, they don’t come from Nevadans, nor Oklahomans, no, the majority of these straws come from pigs that live along the coastlines.

  13. These guys should know all about repetitive sucking, so there must be something to the expression “The Times sucks”.

  14. Denise Denison-Erkeneff says

    I LOVE this. Why would you want to add excessive plastic into our food chain? Say NO to the STRAW!

  15. Are there enough positions in our Psychiatric wards to handle all our legislators at once. Seems they’re all experiencing mental breakdowns trying to Nanny us all to death, I think they are all facists.
    A fascist is a follower of a political philosophy characterized by authoritarian views and a strong central government — and no tolerance for opposing opinions.

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