Why There's Pushback Over Plastic Straw Bans

For most people, plastic straws are unnecessary. (Photo: kpakook/Shutterstock)

On Jan. 1, California enacted a law that prohibits full-service restaurants from giving out plastic straws unless a customer asks for one. The law doesn't include most fast-food restaurants.

The California law was just one of the many partial or total plastic straw bans that popped up in 2018, when the bans became a popular way to bring attention to our plastic problem.

Before these bans went into place, about 500,000 million plastic straws were thrown away each day in the U.S. Once tossed, they often end up harming marine life in our waterways, polluting our land and clogging our landfills. Most of the time they're unnecessary.

It would seem that a reduction in their use would be applauded by all, but NBC News reports that business and free enterprise groups are opposing plastic straw bans.

Who is opposed and why

Several groups have opposed plastic straw bans or limits. The Plastics Industry Association is against any outright bans of straws. The conservative business advocacy organization American Legislative Exchange Council sees government bans as excessive regulation. The advocacy group encourages states to ban cities from regulating all sorts of plastics, including straws, saying the bans muddle up "individual’s right or liberty to use those particular items the way they see fit."

But there are some who oppose the bans for more practical reasons: some disability groups oppose the bans because straws are helpful to people with certain medical conditions. Reusable straws made from harder materials like metal can be difficult or painful to use and paper straws can disintegrate, posing a choking hazard.

It's bigger than plastic straw bans

plastic pollution
Reducing the number of plastic straws is a starting point for reducing all sorts of unnecessary plastic. (Photo: Larina Marina/Shutterstock)

Plastic straws are a tiny percentage of our overall plastic waste. If their use is banned, will that make a difference when other plastics are still being used freely? One of the reasons the plastic straw bans happened so quickly is that for most people, reducing their use is an easy first step. By educating the public about plastic straws and getting a large percentage of the population to accept this one ban, it opens up the door for acceptance of bans for other types of plastics.

On the flip side, if those who are against the plastic bans succeed in getting legislation passed on the state level making it illegal for cities to pass plastic straw bans, that legislation will make it easier for laws to be passed against the ban of other plastics.

Clearly, there's more at stake here than just plastic straws.