Plastic Straws to be Distributed Sparingly in New York City

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Restricting single-use plastic beverage straws, beverage stirrers and beverage splash sticks (Int 0936-2018)

Overview: The New York City Council has voted to prohibit establishments from distributing single-use plastic straws unless specifically requested by the customer. 

Location: New York City

Population: 8.2 million

Food policy category: Sustainable agriculture, environmental health, food services

Program goals: To reduce the use of single-use plastics that harm the environment and wildlife.

How it works: Plastic straws will no longer be distributed with beverage orders at restaurants or other eateries, but they will still be provided free of charge upon request. Self-serve stations, such as those at fast-food restaurants or cafeterias, will have to get rid of plastic straws and replace them with compostable ones. Plastic stirrers will be banned completely. 

Progress to date: The bill was introduced in 2018 and passed on May 12, 2021. 

Why it is important: Each year, people produce 300 million tons of plastic waste, and only nine percent of that is recycled. The rest is either incinerated (12 percent) or ends up in landfills or the natural environment (79 percent). 

Single-use plastics, including straws, bags, and utensils, are often not accepted by recycling centers because they are too small for the machinery, and because plastic is so lightweight, small pieces can be easily carried by the wind into the environment. Plastic pollutes the ocean, and when animals ingest the plastic particles, they can become very sick or die

Plastics do not break down on their own. Instead, they break up into smaller and smaller pieces until they become microplastics, tiny plastic fragments that are not visible to the naked eye. Microplastics are affecting our food systems by infiltrating soil and marine life. It is not certain how much plastic ends up in the food that we eat or how it impacts human health. However, the chemicals added to plastics are known to be detrimental to the human endocrine and reproductive systems and may even be carcinogenic. 

Curbing the use and prevalence of single-use plastics will help to reduce plastic pollution and improve the health of animals, humans, and the environment.

Program/Policy initiated: The policy will go into effect on November 1, 2021. 

Point of contact: 
Councilwoman Helen K. Rosenthal
District 6
District Office Phone: (212) 873-0282
Legislative Office Phone: (212) 788-6975

Similar practices: In 2018, Seattle was the first city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws. It was followed by Washington, D.C. and Miami Beach in 2019. In 2018, California was the first U.S. state to ban plastic straws in restaurants.   

Evaluation: Evaluation of the policy has not yet been conducted because it has not yet gone into effect. 

Learn more: 


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