The restaurant industry may soon be faced with a new twist on the paper-or-plastic question — with potential legal implications.
On May 31, legislation moved through the California Assembly and is now headed to the Senate, requiring dine-in restaurants to institute a straws-upon-request policy.
“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time-use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” said Majority Leader Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, who introduced the legislation earlier this year.
As it currently reads, the bill would prohibit dine-in food facilities from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by the customer. Warnings would be issued for first and second violations, and any subsequent violations would result in a $25 per day fine, at an annual cap of $300.
Organizations such as Berkeley-based The Last Plastic Straw has been pushing since its 2011 founding for food establishments to get rid of plastic straws. Across the pond, Final Straw UK, with its catchphrase, “Let’s make the world a little less rubbish,” is urging United Kingdom's Parliament to outlaw single-use plastic straws.
In March, multiple U.K.-based news outlets reported that McDonald’s is switching over to paper straws in its approximately 1,300 U.K. locations.
Even though U.S. restauranteurs aren’t currently required to remove plastic straws from their eateries, some already have.
Since its founding in 1987, Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen states it has always been about sustainability, and that extends to its fast-food restaurant in Rohnert Park, opened three years ago.
“The straws we use at Amy’s Drive Thru are commercially compostable and made from plant-based, renewable materials—they are not made from petroleum plastics,” said Renaud des Rosiers, sustainability manager at Amy’s Kitchen.
Santa Rosa-based Starting from Scratch Café switched to paper straws two weeks ago.
“We go through a lot of plastic in this business,” said Greg Long, who, along with wife Tammy, owns the café, which is located in the American Ag Credit building on Aviation Blvd. “So anything we can do to help out the landfills, we certainly want to be at the forefront of it.”
The changeover to paper straws is the latest in their ongoing effort to help the environment, the Longs said. Two weeks ago, the couple made the switch from plastic straws to paper ones, and simultaneously switched out their plastic cups and lids in favor of Karat Earth’s eco-friendly alternative, derived from 100 percent renewable sources.
They already employ recyclable napkins, to-go boxes and utensils, and plan to begin encouraging customers to bring their own cups to the cafe.
The switch in straws was a change the Longs would have made sooner, they said, but didn’t want to waste thousands of plastic straws leftover from when they used to make snow cones for a catering client.
Cost-wise, the Longs said they incurred a 25 percent increase by changing over to paper straws, and another 25 percent hike for the environmentally friendly cups and lids.
But the increased cost amounts to a wash, they said, because of other cost-effective measures they already have in place, namely handwashing reusable trays, dishes and utensils.
They have no plans to increase their prices because of the change, the couple said.
Tammy Long said she would like to see Calderon’s legislation become an outright ban, and include plastic cups and plastic lids, in order to minimize waste.