California Prohibits Restaurants From Automatically Giving Out Plastic Straws

Customers at dine-in restaurants will have to ask for a plastic straw if they want one, according to a new law.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the first state law barring dine-in restaurants from providing plastic straws unless customers request them.

In an announcement about the bill’s passage on Thursday, Brown cited plastic’s harmful effect on the planet. “Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences,” the governor wrote.

A debate surrounding plastic straws has bubbled up in recent months as several major cities have instituted or considered similar bans. Seattle became the first major U.S. city to institute a ban on plastic straws and utensils at all food service businesses in July. San Francisco is considering similar legislation.

Earlier this year, the European Union proposed banning plastic products, including straws, cotton swabs and stir sticks. Vancouver, Canada, also approved a ban on plastic straws this year. Scotland has said it plans to outlaw plastic straws by 2019, while Taiwan aims to ban a number of single-use plastic items, including straws, cups and shopping bags, by 2030.

Some opponents accuse these bans of meddling in people’s personal lives. Others have voiced concern that a prohibition on plastic straws would negatively affect members of the disabled community who aren’t able to lift cups and tilt them for drinking.

Advocates say straws and other small pieces of plastic are among the most frequently littered items and can easily make their way to the ocean when they wash down storm drains. Because of their size and composition, plastic straws typically cannot be recycled.

Experts say discarded plastic, as a whole, makes up as much as 80 percent of all litter in the ocean. And it constitutes one of the biggest threats to marine life.

According to the United Nations, “plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish each year.”

“Plastics, in all forms ― straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. ― are choking our planet,” Brown wrote. “It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it.”

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