Sustainability

Plastic straw restrictions re-emerge in New York City

A new law set to take effect Nov. 1 will limit when customers can use non-biodegradable versions as well as require foodservice operations to steer them to more environmentally friendly options.
coffee with plastic straw
Photo: Shutterstock

Remember the crackdown on plastic straws?

In another indication the COVID-19 pandemic is easing, New York City has enacted a law that limits foodservice establishments’ reliance on single-use non-biodegradable straws, picking up where the city left off some 16 months ago.

The legislation, which takes effect Nov. 1, is intended to divert plastic from landfills, waterways and the city’s streets. It requires eateries to steer customers toward more environmentally friendly ways of consuming a beverage, such as using a paper or biodegradable straw, or forgoing one altogether.

Plastic coffee stirrers and splash sticks, the sipping-lid plugs used by coffee specialists such as Starbucks, are banned outright.

Juice boxes, which are packaged with a plastic straw already attached, are exempted from the law.

Customers can still be provided with plastic straws, but only if one is requested. Because the request may be the result of a disability or physical issue, the plastic version has to be provided with no questions asked. Otherwise, an establishment would violate the city’s Human Rights Law, according to the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group representing restaurants in the Big Apple.

If a foodservice spot has a self-service beverage station where straws are offered, a sign must be posted to alert customers that plastic versions are available upon request. The law specifies that the sign must measure at least two inches by seven inches, and the words must be printed in type at least a 20-point font.

Eateries that violate the law during the first year it’s in force will be issued a warning. Thereafter, places are subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second violation and $400 for a third or subsequent infraction.

The Hospitality Alliance notes that the City Council was “on the verge of passing this plastic straw legislation” when the pandemic hit and focused the lawmakers’ attention elsewhere.

“At the time [the proposal] received significant hospitality industry support, but like anything else, it did have some detractors,” the Alliance noted in an alert to members.

Limits on the use of non-biodegradable drinking straws spread rapidly through the nation in 2018-19, in part because of grassroots pressure from young consumers. The ecological movement was pre-empted by the nation's efforts to weather the wildfire spread of coronavirus that began in March 2020.

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