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Tuesday, October 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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L.A. plans to make plastic straws available only on request

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 4, 2018

Plastic straws in lemonade at a street fair in New York on June 7, 2018. (Richard B. Levine / Tribune News Service)
Plastic straws in lemonade at a street fair in New York on June 7, 2018. (Richard B. Levine / Tribune News Service)
By Benjamin Oreskes Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – The city of Los Angeles took a step Tuesday toward limiting the availability of single-use plastic straws in restaurants, joining the state and a slew of smaller cities that have approved similar restrictions.

The measure, which was approved by the City Council 12-0, asks for an ordinance to be drafted that requires all dining establishments to give out plastic straws only by request, and studies a complete ban in the future.

L.A.’s proposed measure goes beyond what the state requires, but is not as strict as the outright bans in place in San Francisco and some smaller California cities.

The state prohibited full-service, dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested.

L.A.’s ordinance includes fast food restaurants – though it creates an exemption for these types of establishments. After getting input from the fast food industry, the bill allows restaurants with drive-through operations to tell customers in their cars that they can have a straw if they like.

Patrons in dine-in restaurants would have to ask for straws.

Once the city attorney has drafted the ordinance, the energy, climate change, and environmental justice committee along with the full council would have to approve it. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell sponsored the measure, and he expects it to be in effect at establishments with more than 26 employees by Earth Day on April 22, 2019, and all restaurants by Oct. 1, 2019.

During Tuesday’s session, he displayed a photo of a sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose – an image that has captured the public imagination on this issue – and said he hoped this bill would change human behavior and that people would begin to stop using these items.

“We can make different choices as a society,” O’Farrell said. “The evidence is in, and it’s overwhelming. The after effects – the consequences – of widespread plastic use is choking the planet.”

He said the city’s ban on plastic bags in 2013 has had a huge effect on the cleanliness of the Los Angeles River, but he noted that plastic straws can still be found in the sandy river bottom.

This measure is seen as yet another victory in a yearslong effort to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.

San Francisco, Malibu and Manhattan Beach have completely banned the plastic devices. Berkeley, Davis and Oakland have all adopted something similar to Los Angeles – asking that straws be given out only at customers’ request. Companies like Starbucks have also said they will ban the items completely in the near future.

Approximately 165 million tons of plastic litter is in the ocean, according to a city report. This report also said that single-use plastic straws, which were first developed in the 1960s, were the sixth most collected item on California Coastal Cleanup days between 1988 and 2016.

The City Council also asked for the Board of Sanitation to study creating an ordinance that would phase out plastic straws completely by 2021. O’Farrell said that a two-year phase-out would give restaurants and bars time to get rid of their current inventory of plastic straws.

A complete ban concerns disability advocates, who say that there isn’t a viable alternative for people who must use a straw to drink.

“If restaurants and other establishments stopped having plastic straws available, disabled people wouldn’t be able to do what we can do, which is walk into an establishment and order a drink and enjoy it,” said Autumn Elliott, a senior counsel for Disability Rights California.

“Does it need to be a plastic straw in particular? Not necessarily, but the alternatives currently available don’t usually work for people with disabilities,” Elliott said.

Current alternatives like glass and paper straws are inadequate, Elliott said.

She said she was happy to see that a working group will be convened to “mitigate impacts to the disabled community associated with the plastic straws’ phase-out.” She added that restaurants having straws available by request should allow for access with people with disabilities.

Once the ordinance comes online, there will be “complaint-driven enforcement” of the new rules. For the first and second violations, written notices will be issued followed by $25 fines per day for violating the rule. The fines will be limited to $300 per year.

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