Los Angeles passes new straw law just in time for Earth Day

The new ordinance bans food and beverage establishments with more than 25 employees from automatically offering customers plastic straws.

A new multi-phase ordinance banning eating establishments in Los Angeles from offering customers plastic straws went into effect today—Earth Day.

The first phase of the ordinance, called "Straws on Request Only," requires that "all food and beverage establishments"—including street vendors, coffee shops, and food trucks—with more than 25 employees provide customers with plastic straws only upon request.

On October 1, the second phase of the ordinance will begin, which bans all food and beverage establishments from offering customers plastic straws, no matter the number of workers employed.

Mitch O'Farrell, a councilman for Los Angeles's thirteenth district, stated that the council in charge of drafting the new law held "dozens and dozens" of meetings and communicated with workers from the Department of Sanitation and prominent figures in the food-service industry, including McDonald's.

"We wanted to create a citywide ordinance requiring all restaurants and food service providers to distribute plastic straws on request," O'Farrell stated. "I worked with several of my colleagues and it resulted in unanimous support from the Los Angeles city council."

Together with the Department of Sanitation, the council worked to find alternative, eco-friendly options for customers, he said.

"[We wanted] to provide business owners options they may use as a single-use plastic alternative, such as straws that biodegrade or are recyclable," O'Farrell said.

According to Shelley Luce, president and CEO of Heal the Bay, these new ordinances are an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in waterways and pollutes the marine environment.

"This ordinance is going to take huge amounts of single-use disposable straws out of our waste stream because they're not going to end up in our rivers or on our beaches, littering our environment and harming marine life," Luce said.

This new legislation is not the first measure California has taken to reduce plastic waste.

In 2016, California became the first state to pass legislation banning single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and retail stores.

In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown passed a state law banning sit-down restaurants from automatically giving customers plastic straws, but the law did not apply to fast-food establishments.

Luce is optimistic that the new ordinance will continue to lower the number of plastic items that find their way into waterways.

"We know that after the single-use plastic bags were banned from grocery stores, we have seen a reduction in those pieces of trash in our beach cleanup," Luce said. "So we're excited that we're gonna see fewer and fewer straws in our cleanups."