California proposes straw law, violators could be fined

Reason posted a story today about a recently proposed law which would make it a violation of California’s Retail Food Code to offer a customer a disposable straw with their drink. The law was introduced this month and, if passed, would make offering a straw in a restaurant a new crime. Reason suggests the penalty would fall on the individual waiter who violated the law: “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.” However, some are already pushing back on this claim saying the fine and potential jail time would apply to the restaurant as an entity, not the waiter. Here’s a portion of the bill in question:

Existing law, the California Retail Food Code, establishes uniform health and sanitation standards for, and provides for regulation by the State Department of Public Health of, retail food facilities, as defined, and requires local health agencies to enforce these provisions. Existing law requires, except as otherwise provided, a person who violates any provision of the code to be guilty of a misdemeanor with each offense punishable by a fine of not less than $25 or more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding 6 months, or by both.

This bill would prohibit a food facility, as specified, where food may be consumed on the premises from providing single-use plastic straws to consumers unless requested by the consumer.

In any case, under this new law, someone could be fined for each instance of handing out straws willy-nilly. I’m not clear how this would be enforced, exactly? Could you report a restaurant for offering free straws? Would some county bureaucrat be responsible for watching security video to verify that such an infraction had occurred? It’s almost too pathetic to consider this could become the job for some very sad adult person. But as Reason points out, the LA Times has already written an editorial pushing for tighter straw control:

Every day Americans use — and almost immediately discard — up to half a billion plastic beverage straws. At least, that’s the figure widely used by environmental activists to explain why people should embrace going straw-less.

It’s not clear where that number came from, but it seems credible considering how many takeout sodas, frappuccinos, smoothies, cold-press juices, boba teas and other beverages Americans buy every day, most of which are accompanied by a complimentary plastic straw.

You’ll note that the Times doesn’t seem too worried about pinning down the underlying facts here. That’s probably because the figures were generated by a 9-year-old, as Reason explains:

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.

California is not the only jurisdiction where something like this is happening. The Sunday Mail has started a campaign to make Scotland, “the first plastic straw-free country in Europe.” The goal isn’t to eliminate straws entirely, but to switch to bio-degradable paper straws. Other companies are manufacturing reusable metal staws as an alternative. Last year the Mercury News reported that banning plastic straws had become the new focus for many jurisdictions in California after the state got rid of plastic bags.

Jazz Shaw Aug 07, 2022 2:31 PM ET