Ban Plastic Straws Unless Customer Asks For One, Massachusetts Legislative Committee Says

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By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

Massachusetts businesses would be banned from distributing disposable plastic straws unless a customer requests one, under a bill endorsed by a legislative committee on Monday and described as “ridiculous” by a leading small business advocate.

The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture of the Massachusetts Legislature favorably recommended on Monday, December 30 its own version of a ban (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2450) that would prohibit restaurants, coffee shops, and other food service establishments from providing customers with single-use plastic straws by default.

Patrons could still request a single-use straw, and the restriction would not apply to reusable straws or “a straw made of non-plastic or biodegradable materials including, but not limited to, paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood, or bamboo,” according to the bill text.

It was not immediately clear how many committee members voted in favor of the bill and whether any opposed the ban. The committee’s chairmen, state Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) and state Representative Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), could not be reached Tuesday, December 31.

The bill now goes to the Ways and Means Committee of the Massachusetts Senate.

Several environmental groups have been pushing for a statewide restriction on single-use plastic straws as a way to reduce environmental pollution.

“Plastic straws are produced in enormous quantities,” the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts chapter wrote in an online petition expressing support for a state ban. “People in the U.S. use hundreds of millions of plastic straws per year, which on average means 1 straw per person each day. Plastic straws are among the top 10 items found in beach cleanups. Plastic straws never biodegrade and harm or kill wildlife.”

Some cities across the country have implemented their own local limits on disposable straw use, and California this year began prohibiting dine-in full-service restaurants — but not, for example, fast-food establishments —  from providing a plastic straw unless a customer requests one.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s Massachusetts chapter criticized the development, writing in a tweet that the ban was “ridiculous.”

Christopher Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told State House News Service his group believes a ban on plastic straws will force businesses to pay more for biodegradable or reusable alternatives.

“For small businesses, consumer satisfaction is key and making plastic straws ‘by request’ only may result in negative experiences for drive through and take-out restaurant customers if they forget to ask,” Carlozzi wrote in an email message. “It is commonsense that someone purchasing an ice coffee or soda would require a straw and this policy adds an unnecessary step for both the customer and the business.”

In November, the Senate voted 36-4 to ban single-use plastic bags at most retail stores.

That legislation (which started as Massachusetts Senate Bill 2410, and is now in its amended version Massachusetts Senate Bill 2422) sparked criticism from both Gobi — who voted against it — and Pignatelli because, unlike a version the Environment Committee endorsed, it requires businesses to impose a minimum 10-cent fee for paper or reusable bags.

The Senate had approved similar bag bans, albeit without a mandatory fee, in the past, but the topic has never gained traction in the House.