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Is It The Last Straw For Plastic Straws In LA?

Plastic straws on May 24, 2018 in Sieversdorf, Germany. (Photo by Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images)
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Additional reporting by Lita Martinez.

Can Los Angeles phase out all single-use plastic straws by the year 2021? The city council thinks it might be possible.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to instruct the Bureau of Sanitation to report back on how to achieve that goal -- and whether it can be done without impacting people who have disabilities and need plastic straws to eat or drink.

Why bother? Doesn't a state law that bans restaurants from automatically giving out plastic straws take effect January 1?

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Yes, it does but...

The state law (AB 1884) only applies to "full-service restaurants," places where consumers are escorted to their seats, a server takes their order and their food and bill are brought to them. That means the statewide straw ban, which governor Jerry Brown recently signed, doesn't apply to most fast food and fast casual restaurants, a huge segment of the restaurant industry.

This L.A. city initiative would be much broader and more restrictive. That's exactly the point, says one of its main backers.

"We are a coastal city, we contribute directly and we impact the Pacific Ocean directly. We are part of that Alaskan-sized floating garbage patch," according to councilmember Mitch O'Farrell.

O'Farrell was referring to a vast, offshore accumulation of plastic debris known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Plastic cups and straws used by tourists on a beach near Athens, Greece on June 26, 2018. The Mediterranean is one of the seas with the highest levels of plastic pollution in the world. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

To make things more complicated, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently adopted an ordinance that would expand the state law to all types of food businesses -- including fast food restaurants, mobile food trucks, cafeterias and bars -- in unincorporated areas of the county. The ordinance would also prohibit businesses that serve food from using self-serve dispensers for plastic straws or stirrers. Customers would have to ask for these items. The ordinance wouldn't apply to food businesses that use straws and stirrers made paper, sugar, bamboo or other nonplastic materials.

Americans supposedly use -- and almost immediately throw away -- about half a billion plastic straws every year.

Whatever happens, it seems like we're sipping the last dregs from our straws, here in California.

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A woman drinks with a plastic straw. (Photo by Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images)

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