California Passes First State-Level 'Straw On Request' Law

The new legislation is more performative than punitive. That doesn't make it a good idea.



California is really going down the tubes. On Thursday, the state legislature approved a straw-on-request bill, which would prohibit full-service restaurants from providing customers with a straw unless they specifically request one.

First introduced in January, the bill drew national attention for the harsh penalties it initially included—$1,000 fines and 6 months in jail—and for the sponsor's use of the ubiquitous but inaccurate statistic that Americans use 500 millions straws a day. (The source of that figure is a nine-year-old.)

That sponsor, Assemblyman Ian Calderon's (D–Los Angeles), has stood by the 500 million figure, with his staff telling The Washington Post that they have no reason to think it's inaccurate. But he has backed away from the penalties, saying his intention was never to criminalize straw use but just to "raise awareness about the detrimental effects of plastic straws on our environment."

The bill that passed out the legislature yesterday give businesses mere warnings the first two times they're caught handing out unsolicited plastic straws. A third offence would net them a $25 fine for each day they supply straws by default, with annual fines capped at $300. Fast food restaurants, and any other food service business that don't meet the state's definition of "full service," would be exempt from the law.

That makes the law weaker than some of the local straw bans around the state. San Francisco's ordinance, for instance, prohibits single-use plastic straws not only in all restaurants, but also in grocery stores and other retail outlets. Violators in the Bay City could be hit with fines of up to $500.

Indeed, Calderon's final bill was watered down enough that the state's Chamber of Commerce, its Restaurant Association, and even its Plastic Industry Association all remained neutral.

Performative prohibition is certainly preferable to the punitive kind. But the bill's limited effect raises the question of what purpose it's supposed to serve. For Calderon, it's all about making the little steps.

"It's critical that we reduce the negative effects of plastic pollution," he tells the Los Angels Times. "By removing the default behavior of providing straws with every drink, consumers have an opportunity to make a deliberate, small change that will lessen the harmful impacts of single-use plastic straws in our environment."

Yet cracking down on straws does essentially nothing to address the problem of plastic pollution. Straws are about 3 percent of beach litter in California, and about .02 percent of the overall plastic waste that gets into our oceans each year.

Rather than getting people to think about how best to address the other 99.8 percent of plastic getting into the oceans each year, bills like Calderon's will only encourage similar petty intrusions from government in more places, and on more single-use items. (Look out, balloons!)

The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law.

NEXT: Criminal Justice Reform in Congress Is On Hold, but Advocates Remain Hopeful

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. California is just a few bans away from perfection.

    1. needs a like button

    2. I am as responsible a person as all y’all and recycle stuff as required by my state (Delaware). This includes plastic in all its forms. My two weekly recycling load far exceeds my weekly ‘trash’ load.

      My trash collector is mandated to provide additional recycling bins (plastic) and the recycling fee on my bill is “zero – 0”.

      Rather than going after plastic straw users / providers is anyone, even a 9 year-old, tracking what happens to the the plastic I recycle – bi-weekly? Or yours?

      Asking for a friend (of the earth) 🙂

      1. Some gets recycled. Some gets shipped off to other countries. Some ends up in the landfill because it’s not economical to recycle. Straws probably end up here.

        Generally glass and #1 and #2 plastic get recycled. Some places #3. I doubt much else gets recycled.

    3. They need to ban all plastic, entirely. Stop it with this pussyfooting around BS.

      They also need to ban the use of fossil fuels within the state, entirely.

      Why won’t California do its part?

      1. California is working on it. State policy is pretty much to force drivers to go electric or at least hybrid by making it prohibitively expensive to drive a car fueled by natural gas.

  2. Are them members of the California legislature bored? Can someone find them an exciting and perhaps even useful hobby? So they do not feel.compelled to micromanage things they have no competency to involve themselves in.

    1. Looks up Transparency California website. It lists all California public employee’s salaries and benefits.

      California Assemblymen make far more than they should.

      1. I’d say the Legislators should make only the minimum wage, but that would mean they would increase the minimum wage to $1,000 an hour. There is no escape

    2. You’d think between the stealing, the hustling, and banging hookers they’d have their hands full. I guess they’re good multi-taskers.

  3. Paper straws that come individually wrapped in plastic. Calling it now.

    1. LOL

    2. Patent it. You’ve got a year.

    3. There’s a lot less plastic in a LDPE bag than a HDPE straw.

      1. Ban california!

  4. America! You are so full of stupid.

    I was nosing around at Instapundit, and I was shocked by the reaction to the announcement that McCain is ending treatment. I don’t care much for his politics and probably his character, but watching post after post applauding his impending death is sick. I expect this sort of POLITICS IS THE END-ALL, BE-ALL mentality from the left, but it’s sad to see it increasingly from the right. And, of course, I have a special interest as a GBM fighter myself, but same answer if the man got run over by a car.

    1. I expect this sort of POLITICS IS THE END-ALL, BE-ALL mentality from the left, but it’s sad to see it increasingly from the right.

      Aw, that’s cute.

    2. I am mad at McCain for not retiring from the Senate so Arizona can pick a new Senator. McCain is very selfish like that.

      He was a brave sailor and served his nation and was a POW for many years. He will always garner respect for that.

      If he helps the Democrats anymore by not resigning, he will lose much of that good will.

      1. “This man’s dying is inconvenient to the Party. Selfish man!”

        I’m not even sure what to do with that. For one, there’s not much one *can* say which would have any effect to someone who really thinks that way. Of course everything revolves around the good of the Party. That’s the way life works. What are you, some sort of bad person?

        I dunno, man. I’m sorry the world made this make sense to you. I don’t even know what we’ve done to ourselves any more.

        He might have stayed so he wouldnt lose his very good health insurance. I’m not saying nothing, I know he’s rich, and I’m only speculating, just throwing that possibility out there.

        1. This is probably the best thing I’m going to read today

        2. Probably an honest and compassionate take on the situation. But I wonder how many taking it, took it when Strom Thurmond was hanging on and hanging on?

        3. Maga!

        4. He owes his career to that political party.

          And why isn’t the VA good enough for him?

          So, yeah. On the topic of not resigning, fuck him.

  5. I ask for 10 straws each time. I lick each one and leave them behind.

    By the end of my I will have contributed to .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the plastic in oceans.

    1. *end of my life

    2. You monster!

    3. I salute you!

  6. the bill drew national attention for the harsh penalties it initially included?$1,000 fines and 6 months in jail

    WITH a plastic straw rammed up your nostril.

  7. Mommy, why do California sit down restaurants throw their used straws on the beach?

    No, that doesn’t work. These people are beyond mocking.

    Any ideas of what’s going to be next?

    1. toothbrushes.

      1. Will now be required to be manufactured out of wood and pig bristle.

  8. “By removing the default behavior of providing straws with every drink, consumers have an opportunity to make a deliberate, small change that will lessen the harmful impacts of single-use plastic straws in our environment.”

    I never use straws.

    If I lived in CA, I’d always ask for one now.

  9. Well, I guess this means I need to get my passport out so I can cross the border (into CA – it *is* a border, after all and I should have to ask permission to cross one of those) and go to a restaurant. Normally I don’t use straws but from now on I’ll have to ensure that I ask for at least *two* on each visit.

  10. “I’d like a small soft drink and fifty straws, please.”

  11. Many restaurants already have “bread on request” policies, and I’ve had to ask for a straw now and then, and maybe a couple extra napkins. Greedy capitalists are always trying to cut costs. Somewhere a sea turtle will be saved but a Mom is going to use some extra detergent and water because little Billy slopped his chocolate milk all over his Sunday suit.

    1. Kids can manage to spill from a spill-proof sippy cup. I don’t think the straw is going to save Billy’s suit. I swear my kid has somehow spilled an empty cup.

      1. I swear my kid has somehow spilled an empty cup.

        This was funnier than it should have been, but I have little nephews, and yeah, it’s amazing… It’s like they spontaneously generate dirt. :-/

  12. Slow news day at Reason if this is the best they can come up with… India, China, Kenya, Chile, the United Kindom and Australia already have nationwide plastic bag bans, as do several major cities across the US.. and more are planning the same soon….. Can Reason really be that behind the eight-ball and not grasp that plastics are a real problem? Right now, China accepts almost 50% of the world’s recyclable plastics… 4000 containers of plastic waste are shipped from the US each day…. at least it was until Trump’s Tariff War caused China to cancel all further shipments… This childish, Tighty-Righty, knee-jerk slamming of California is really kind of sad.

  13. I dont put my return address on the boxes of straws that I send to Commifornia politicians, so I decided to act like I was a fedex driver and deliver a box full straws to see their reaction.

    It was priceless. The Lefties flipped out when they opened the box as I was leaving. I stamped the box ‘fragile’ .

    1. If reason would only let us post videos, I would record the reaction for all to enjoy.

  14. This makes perfect sense, only customers who want straws would get them. And to make it more efficient and easier on businesses they could just put out a straw container/dispenser and who ever wanted a straw could take one.


  15. They exempted the restaurants where I use the most straws? What?

  16. Morons gotta be Moronic.

  17. Math check: straws are 0.02% of all plastic but author says what about the other 99.8%? I think he means the other 99.98%.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.