San Francisco drops ban hammer on plastic straws


San Francisco will soon join other cities across the country in prohibiting the use of plastic drinking straws at places like coffee shops and restaurants in an effort meet The City’s zero waste goals.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on the first reading of prohibiting the sale and use of plastic straws and other plastic food accessories such as coffee stirrers and splash sticks beginning on July 1, 2019.

Supervisor Katy Tang, the sponsor of the legislation and noticeably absent from the vote because she was taking the California bar exam, according to her office, said in a statement:

“The negative environmental impacts of single-use plastics are astronomical. San Francisco has been a pioneer of environmental change, and it’s time for us to find alternatives to the plastic that is choking our marine ecosystems and littering our streets.”

Coffee shops, restaurants, bars, boba shops, or any place that serves drinks, will have to opt-in for more environmentally friendly alternatives such as paper or metal straws and can only give them out upon request from a customer or have the items available at a self-serve station.

Other cities such as Seattle and Miami Beach already have ordinances in effect.

Department of Environment Director Debbie Raphael said in a statement to SFBay:

“Today’s Board of Supervisors’ vote sends a strong message that we must tackle our single-use disposable culture if we are going to reach our goal of zero waste. More importantly, this ordinance will help reduce the amount of single-use plastic pollution and litter on San Francisco streets and in our Bay.”

The department will lead the outreach to businesses before the new law takes effect.

Violators can face a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $200 for a second offense and up to $500 for each additional violation within a 12-month period.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said the legislation was about changing people’s behavior:

“Do you really need to offer a straw with a glass of water?”

Tang’s legislation does offer an exemption for those with a medical condition or people with disabilities who need access to the items banned in the legislation.

Additionally, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the legislation requires that any city permitted events of more than 100 people with food vendors serving drinks, must provide at least 10 percent of attendees with reusable cups.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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