City Council Votes To Severely Restrict Plastic Straw Use In NYC Restaurants/Bars/Food Stores

May 12, 2021

The City Council overwhelmingly passed Council Member Helen Rosenthal‘s legislation today which will dramatically limit the use of plastic.

Plastic straws in food service establishments, and ban the provision of single-use plastic stirrers and splash sticks of any kind.

The legislation, which was first introduced by Council Member Rafael Espinal in 2018, responds to the plastic waste crisis in waterways across the globe.

An estimated 100,000 marine creatures, and 1 million seabirds, die because of plastic debris every year. Plastic waste is also consumed by animals, eventually finding its way into our food supply.

An estimated 100,000 marine creatures, and 1 million seabirds, die because of plastic debris every year. Plastic waste is also consumed by animals, eventually finding its way into our food supply.

Local, national, and international environmental organizations joined together in 2018 to launch a citywide campaign to drastically reduce plastic straw use in New York City.

While plastic straws are among the most common litter found on beaches and in oceans, they are also among the easiest plastic products to replace.

Alternative straws made of paper, bamboo, metal, or glass are readily available, and many consumers can skip the straw altogether.

After the original bill was introduced, New York City’s disability community worked closely with environmentalists, the restaurant industry, and the City Council to ensure that the revised legislation passed today protects the civil rights of disabled people who need straws to eat and/or drink independently.

Effective this November 1st, 2021, New York City food establishments such as restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as grocery stores, delis, and food trucks can no longer provide single-use plastic straws to customers unless a customer actively requests one.

In that case, establishments will be required to provide a plastic straw free of charge, no questions asked. To refuse to provide the plastic straw, or to ask why could constitute a violation of the City’s Human Rights Law.

The ability to request a plastic straw is a critical protection for disabled customers who need them.

  • Foodservice establishments will be required to stock non-compostable plastic straws in case of a request, and post signs advertising the straws’ availability at self-serve stations.
  • Businesses may also provide bioplastic straws upon request, but only for use on-premises, and only if the establishment properly separates and disposes of those straws through a commercial composting provider.
  • Businesses can continue to offer straws made of materials that naturally break down in the environment, such as paper or bamboo.
  • Single-use plastic stirrers and splash sticks are completely banned.

“The coalition that fought so hard for this legislation understands that plastic waste is gravely polluting our oceans and waterways, threatening the health of wildlife and humans alike.

This includes millions upon millions of straws, and limiting their use is a simple but very important step toward addressing our plastic trash crisis,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

“At the same time, it is absolutely fundamental that we protect the civil rights and independence of people with disabilities. I am proud of the Council’s work in engaging both environmental advocates and disability community members. Together we found a way to sharply limit the provision of plastic straws in one of the largest cities in the world, and also make sure they were available if needed. Step by step, we are limiting New York City’s consumption of plastic, whether it’s shopping bags, single-use bottles, eating utensils, and now straws. This will be a lasting achievement,” Council Member Rosenthal continued.

“When I originally introduced the bill, plastic waste was a growing problem that was leading our oceans to have more plastic than fish by 2050. That reality has only been intensified by the pandemic and the lax regulations allowed for single-use plastic. When we talk about building back our city it must include sensible green policy goals that will ensure we’re doing so consciously. Straws on request is an important step forward and I applaud the advocates and leaders of Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal for seeing that this legislation gets passed,” said former Councilmember Rafael Espinal.

“Sustainability is accessibility and they go hand in hand,” said Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) Commissioner Victor Calise. “Int 936-A ensures that the City’s efforts to reduce plastic waste do not come at the expense of people with disabilities who require plastic straws and cannot use currently available alternatives. MOPD was proud to work with the Council, our agency partners, and advocates in the disability, sustainability, and restaurant communities to amend the original legislation to ensure that food service establishments will be required to maintain a sufficient supply of non-compostable plastic straws, provide them to customers upon request, and post signage at the self serve stations so that individuals are aware of their right to request a plastic straw if they need one. This bill will be a model for other cities around the country and the world by showing that environmentalism and disability rights are not mutually exclusive goals.”

“It is time to end our addiction to single-use plastics,” said Ben Furnas, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability. “Curbing their use has impacts that go beyond reducing litter and waste – it also protects our waterways and reduces our reliance on the fossil fuels that help create them. Today’s legislation is an important step in our city’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution in an equitable and inclusive manner that ensures that the rights and needs of our disability community are protected.”

Restrictions on Plastic Straws Are Being Implemented Across the World:

  • Seattle was the first U.S. city to place a ban on plastic straws in 2018, followed by other major cities like Los AngelesSan Francisco, and Washington DC. Also in 2018, California became the first state to pass similar state-wide legislation.
  • The European Union will ban single-use plastic items (including straws) by 2021.
  • In the UK, former Prime Minister Theresa May announced a Britain-wide ban in 2018 on the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton swabs, and called on the 52 Commonwealth nations to implement similar measures.
  • Taiwan announced a ban on single-use plastic bags, straws and cups in 2018.

“Sustainability has long been an important practice for restaurants throughout New York City, and by first voluntarily, and now by policy, drastically limiting the usage of plastic straws it will further reduce the pollution in our waterways of which restaurants share a symbiotic relationship. We commend Councilmember Rosenthal, former Councilmember Espinal, and all the stakeholders involved for their collaboration in crafting legislation that can work for the environment, restaurants, and for people with disabilities,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, NYC Hospitality Alliance.

“This legislation is NOT a plastic straw ban, and unlike legislation in other cities, protects the civil rights and independence of the disability community. Anyone who asks for a plastic straw in New York City’s restaurants will be able to get one, no questions asked, so that disabled people who need a straw to eat or drink can get them no matter what,” said Joe Rappaport, Executive Director, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID).

“Plastic straws are a source of litter, are not recyclable, and pose a risk to wildlife. This commonsense city bill will help reduce plastic pollution and save businesses money. Starting November 1st, New Yorkers will simply need to ask for a straw if they want one, ensuring that people living with physical disabilities still have access to straws whenever they need them. New York City now joins Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and the State of California in adopting this policy. I hope that the State of New York will soon follow. I am grateful to Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and the many environmental and disability advocates who’ve worked hard to make this happen,” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.

“The successful revision of the straw bill that is to be passed demonstrates the importance of involving the disability community in all facets of policymaking. Whether it’s health care, commerce, education, transportation, civic, or environmental policy, the disability community is impacted and must be consulted when designing any legislation. A complete single-use plastic straw ban would have infringed upon the rights of many food vendor patrons with disabilities to obtain from food vendors plastic straws they require in order to drink. Providing plastic straws only upon request will dramatically reduce the number of plastic straws that are distributed while it will ensure the customers who need them get them,” said Sharon Shapiro Lacks, Executive Director, Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center.

“This common-sense bill will cut street litter, keep plastic debris out of our local waters, save restaurants money, provide straws to those who genuinely need them, and signal that New Yorkers can work together to cut back on throw-away plastics.  Bravo to Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and former Councilmember Rafael Espinal for their environmental leadership,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NYC Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Our shared concern for the environment need not be at odds with the desire of disabled customers at local restaurants. This bill strikes an elegant solution and we applaud the community members and Council members who were instrumental in its success,” said Susan M. Dooha, Executive Director, Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY).

“The first thing we need to do to get to Zero Waste is to reduce how much waste we are generating in the first place. Disposable products like plastic straws often end up in our waterways, harming our ecosystems and marine life. They also contribute to our reliance on single-use items that burden our waste systems. We thank Council Member Rosenthal for her leadership and thank the City Council for protecting the environment and passing one of our priority bills,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

“This legislation protects our environment from the needless use of plastic straws while protecting individuals with disabilities who require plastic straws to be able to enjoy beverages independently. I want to thank the City Council for reaching out to the disabled community and ensuring our voices and concerns were heard,” said José Hernandez, President, United Spinal Association, New York City Chapter.

“The Wildlife Conservation Society thanks New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and the entire New York City Council for passing the Single-Use Plastic Straws Bill (Int. 936A) to reduce the amount of plastic waste that winds up in our waterways. This groundbreaking legislation will help raise awareness of plastic pollution currently harming marine wildlife around the world while thoughtfully addressing the needs of people with disabilities,” said John Calvelli, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Oceanic Global is honored to have been part of the coalition that spearheaded the plastic-free bill in NYC and rallied support from the hospitality industry. Straws are the first step to considering our larger environmental footprint, and we’re excited that NYC is taking action to encourage sustainable practices that address the needs of the disabled community and work to include all New Yorkers in the conversation,” said Lea D’Auriol, Executive Director, Oceanic Global.

“Coming together as a community and passing this bill is a huge accomplishment for our city and our planet. As the greatest city in the world, we must always be the example of what a truly sustainable city looks like. This bill is one of many critical and timely steps that must be taken to minimize NYC’s plastic waste and overall environmental impact. I’m very proud to be a New Yorker today!,“ said Lauren Singer, Environmentalist & founder of Package Free Shop.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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