California made history this week by enacting the nation’s first state law prohibiting restaurants from giving customers plastic straws unless they are requested.
Pointing out that plastic is “choking our planet,” Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law on Thursday, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
The state’s governor emphasized that plastic of all types is causing extensive harm to marine life, while also posing threats to humans and their health.
“Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences,” Brown wrote in a signing message, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to Ocean Crusaders, it is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.
What’s more, at least 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement (and those are the ones that are found by humans.) Approximately 1 million seabirds also die from plastic.
Straws are a particular problem. Americans use more than 500 million of them every single day and most of them end up in our oceans polluting the water and killing marine life, according to For a Strawless Ocean.
An estimated 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs. When they ingest plastic, marine life has a 50 percent mortality rate.
When signing the law Thursday, Brown noted that when a dead pilot whale washed up on a beach in Thailand recently, 80 plastic bags were found in its stomach that prevented the digestion of food.
If nothing is done, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
“Nor are humans immune as microplastics were recently found in tap water around the world,” Brown wrote. “Plastics, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking our planet.”
The new law will take effect on January 1.
Fast-food restaurants in California are exempted from the measure, while full-service restaurants will be given a written warning for the first two violations. After that, a fine of $25 a day will be imposed for continued infractions.
“It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it,” Brown said. “And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative. But one thing is clear, we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products.”
The measure was mostly opposed by Republican lawmakers in the state who predicted it will be the first step toward a total ban on straws, which could be burdensome for small businesses.
“I just don’t see how this is going to make that much a difference in reducing straws in the waterways,” Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) said. “Punishing the restaurant for defying this mandate I just think sends the wrong message.”
Further supporting the need for the measure, the California Coastal Commission recorded roughly 835,425 plastic straws and stirrers picked up during organized beach cleanups during a quarter-century period ending in 2014.
“The California Legislature is continuing to fill the vacuum of federal leadership by tackling our plastic pollution crisis and the throw-away culture that causes it,” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, told the Los Angeles Times.
Several California cities have also adopted local ordinances tied to harmful single-use plastic. Some have begun requiring that plastic utensils only be provided by food service workers when specifically requested by a customer.
The state is part of a growing worldwide movement to address the incredibly damaging effects of plastic on the environment and on marine life.
Just this week, Jamaica announced its own ban on various single-use plastics, with government officials there saying the island is being inundated by them.
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