It’s Finally Happening: S.F. May Ban Plastic Straws

Three years after a sea turtle with a straw up its nose broke millions of hearts, cities are considering ways to reduce single-use plastics.

Following a plastic bag ban and styrofoam container ban, plastic straws are now in the crosshairs of San Francisco environmentally-aware politicians.

Supervisor Katy Tang announced Tuesday she would introduce legislation to cut plastic straws, stirrers and cocktail sticks from restaurants and cafes. If passed, the legislation would also prohibit the sale and distribution of plastic toothpicks and splash sticks. Products like lids, condiment packages and napkins would still be available upon request or at self-serve stations.

San Luis Obispo and Davis last year required plastic straws to be provided upon request, a move which was proposed for statewide legislation earlier this year. Malibu and Seattle have laws similar to Tang’s underway, while Berkeley is kicking it up a notch by considering a 25-cent surcharge on disposable cups and containers that would also make paper straws free.

It’s estimated that one million straws are used in San Francisco every day and that 67 percent of street litter in the Bay Area is single-use food and drink items, according to Tang’s office. 

“Here in San Francisco, this is quite literally the last plastic straw,” Tang says in a statement. “We need to step up and do something about our wasteful daily habits when there are other alternatives.”

Tang’s legislation, co-sponsored by supervisors Ahsha Safai and London Breed, also remove fluorinated chemicals from foodware products and require that compostable foodware products be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. Plus, events on city property with more than 100 attendees would be required to provide 10 percent of the attendees with reusable cups.

“Plastic foodware has become the omnipresent scourge on our streets, in our waterways and throughout our environment,” says Debbie Raphael, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “It’s time to bring the era of disposability to a close.”

It’s not just about litter, but also animals. Fish in the North Pacific ingest up to 24,000 tons of plastic annually, which works its way up the food chain. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an estimated 60 percent of seabird species have eaten plastic while other marine mammals get tangled in it as waste fills up our oceans.

An estimated half of sea turtles worldwide have also ingested plastic. The millions of people who watched a 2015 video of marine biologists in Costa Rica removing a straw from the nose of an endangered sea turtle may heartbreakingly recall it wincing in pain and bleeding.


If approved and signed, San Francisco’s ordinance would take effect in July 2019. Until then, keep this poor turtle in mind with each sip of boba you take.

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