Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to enact a plastic-straws-only-by-request ordinance after the City Council approved a motion by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, on Dec. 4.
“The unanimous vote sends the signal that we are serious about slowing or eliminating the detrimental effects of plastics in the environment,” O’Farrell said. “It also serves as a motivator for the industry to act faster than the law requires and invest in environmentally sustainable products.”
The city’s goal is to phase out single-use plastic straws altogether by 2021. Reducing single-use plastic waste has been a top environmental policy priority for lawmakers this year. A recently passed state law requires plastic straws to be given only by request at full service, dine-in restaurants. The Los Angeles City Council ordinance additionally requires fast food restaurants to only provide plastic straws when requested by a customer.
“The days of single-use plastics are over,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District. “We cannot recycle our way out of a fundamental design flaw problem. We must change our habits as we did with plastic bags so we do not use increasingly scarce resources only once and so that we do not continue polluting our increasingly fragile planet simply for convenience.”
The council voted on Dec. 4 to request that the city attorney draft the ordinance, which will take effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2019. It will first affect businesses with 26 employees or less, and all restaurants by Oct. 1, 2019. The city plans to phase out single-use plastic straws entirely by 2021, which will give restaurants time to find alternatives to single-use plastic straws and stirrers.
“By requiring customers to ask first, we are challenging them to think twice. And by thinking twice, maybe they will realize they can do without a straw,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, 6th District, chair of the city’s Energy and Environmental Justice Committee. “We are tired of seeing countless single-use plastics scattered along our freeways and off-ramps. [This] action is one of many efforts that can help reduce litter in my neighborhoods, which are ground zero for the city’s waste stream.”
In January, O’Farrell and Martinez co-introduced a motion to create a citywide ordinance requiring restaurants and food service providers to distribute plastic straws by request only. The motion also called on the bureau of sanitation to report on options that business owners may use as an alternative to plastic straws, such as biodegradable or reusable straws. The departments, with input from the community, will provide input on necessary exemptions for people with disabilities as part of the process of drafting the ordinance.
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