RI General Assembly approves bill curtailing plastic straw use

The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey and House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman David A. Bennett to cut down on disposable plastic straw use in Rhode Island.

The bill (2021-S 0155A2021-H 5131A), which would take effect Jan. 1, would not be an outright ban, but would prohibit food service establishments from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by the consumer. It would also not prevent people with disabilities, some of whom need straws, from getting them.

California has a similar law, and many municipalities have also adopted limits or bans.

The legislation now heads to the governor.

“Single-use plastic straws negatively impact our environment,” said Senator McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick). “These straws litter our shoreline and we’ve seen particularly disastrous consequences for marine life. Curtailing the use of plastic straws in restaurants will improve our environment and encourage consumers to think twice about their own carbon footprint.”

The bill calls for a notice of violation for first and second offenses. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by a fine of $25, not to exceed $300 annually.

“We have to face the fact that Rhode Island’s landfill is going to reach capacity in 13 years if we don’t drastically cut back on the trash we are producing. We need to change our habits, large and small,” said Chairman Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). “Single-use straws are a source of waste and litter, as well as air pollution during their manufacture. They generally aren’t necessary, we have great alternatives, and small changes can make a difference. We need to take real action – sooner, not later – to stop filling our landfill, our ocean, our streets and the rest of our environment with so much unnecessary waste.”

Americans disposed of more than 33 million tons of plastic in 2014, most of which was not recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A study that same year estimates that there are 270,000 metric tons of plastic in the world’s oceans. It’s estimated that more than 500 million single-use plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. as Americans use them at an average rate of 1.6 straws per person per day, according to the National Park Service. That translates into 175 billion straws a year.


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