News Story

Lame-Duck Legislator Calls For Penalties on Distributing Straws

'I wanted to make a statement,’ says sponsor of a bill in the Michigan House

A state lawmaker in the final weeks of his final term in the Michigan House of Representatives has introduced bills that would restrict the distribution of single-use plastic items in restaurants, including drinking straws. California is currently the only state that has enacted such a ban.

House Bill 6504, introduced by third-term Democratic Rep. Tom Cochran from Mason, would ban single-use plastic items from being sold or offered after December 2023. These single-use plastic items include cotton swabs, cutlery, plates, straws and drink stirrers. The ban would not go into effect unless a “sustainable alternative” that is biodegradable is found.

House Bill 6505 would impose a civil infraction of up to $300 per year on a restaurant that offers a single-use plastic straw to a customer who did not request it.

Cochran said he hopes the introduction of his bills will start a conversation on the potential harm of single-use plastics. He pointed to moves by Aldi and other grocery stores working to provide alternatives to plastic bags as examples of ways businesses could move away from using single-use plastic items.

“I guarantee my bills are not going to get a hearing or any movement. ... I felt very strongly that I wanted to make a statement and hopefully move the conversation forward and I’m working with my colleagues to hopefully get the issue taken up in the future,” Cochran said. “We’re not going to be without plastics, but I think we need to be very aware of the impact single-use plastics have and try to limit their use and the impact they have on our environment.”

In July 2018, the city of Seattle made headlines when it banned single-use plastic straws and utensils at food service establishments. In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation limiting full-service restaurants, but not fast-food establishments, from giving out single-use plastic straws unless requested by the customer.

Cochran said that while the idea for his legislation was his own, his bill mirrors the California law as well as the Seattle ordinance.

The Mason representative said residents of the state’s communities would have to make sure neighbors were aware of the new single-use rule if his legislation were enacted. Enforcement of House Bill 6505 would fall on an employee of the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, or a local health officer.

Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called the legislation ridiculous.

“It just shows they truly have run out of things to regulate,” Owens said.

Gail Philbin, the state director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, did not respond to an email and a phone call requesting comment on the bills. Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association did not respond to phone and emailed requests for comment.