Last July, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban the sale and distribution of plastic straws in SF. The ordinance goes into effect today, July 1!
Straws found at Baker Beach on Sunday.

In addition to straws, the Plastic, Litter, and Toxics Reduction Law also bans plastic beverage plugs, plastic cocktail sticks, plastic stirrers, and plastic toothpicks, and it’s now illegal to provide takeout accessories (e.g. utensils, condiment packages, napkins, coffee lids, and sleeves) unless a customer asks for them.

Restaurants and bars can give out paper, hay, or other non-plastic alternative straws, but only if a customer requests a straw. The ordinance also bans the popular PLA “plant-based” compostable straws that you’ve likely seen at coffee shops around town. Reason being, if PLA straws find their way into the marine environment, they can be just as damaging to sea life as regular plastic straws. A study by the 5 Gyres Institute found that PLA plastic straws did not substantially degrade within 24 months at sea.

Starting in January 2020, phase 2 of the ordinance will go into effect: all foodware will need to be compostable (accepted by SF’s composting facilities) or recyclable. And foodware that contains fluorinated chemicals–which are commonly used on paper takeout containers to repel water and grease–will be banned.

A study by Clean Water Action found that 67 percent of street litter in the Bay Area is takeout food and beverage-related packaging. We’re hoping this law will help reduce this type of waste.

Surfrider believes that every law should provide accommodations for those in need. SF Environment and the Mayor’s office reached out to representatives of broader communities, including the disabled community, while drafting this bill. The ordinance states that “nothing in this [law] shall restrict, or be construed to restrict, the availability of single-use plastic straws to individuals who may require and request” them.

Volunteers in our chapter laid the groundwork for this legislation–a testament to the impact that committed, persistent individuals can have. During 2015, our volunteers started approaching businesses and asking them to switch from plastic straws to “paper straws by request”. Within two years, we got 100 restaurants and bars to make the switch. “This victory is the result of the collective efforts of businesses, the local government, the press, paper straw distributors, and the amazing, dedicated Surfrider interns and volunteers,” said Eva Holman, a member of our chapter’s Executive Committee.

While the law goes into effect today, it may take some time for businesses to fully comply. We encourage you to talk to restaurant staff members, managers, and bartenders about the law. Letting them know it’s important to you as a customer will go a long way.