Ian Calderon, the Democratic majority leader in California’s lower house has introduced a bill that would MANDATE all sit-down restaurants refrain from offering their patrons straws with their drinks unless they ask for one repeatedly.
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.
And it’s not just Calderon pushing for these measures! Many prominent leftist politicians, media outlets and scientists support this agenda.
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 odd thing is no one is exactly sure anyway how many plastic straws are being used and the specific impact this is having on the environment.
The actual number of straws being used is unclear. Calderon, along with news outlets writing about this issue—from CNN to the San FranciscoChronicle—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.
It would seem like it’d make more sense to get better data and then work to educate the people on the REAL impact their use of plastic might potentially have on the environment INSTEAD of penalizing poor wait staff and small businesses owners. But then again, I am not a deranged liberal.
Update: Reason spoke with Voleck Taing, a senior assistant to Assemblyman Calderon, who said they intend to amend the bill to remove the fines.
Image: State of Reform