28 Jan

CA to Ban Straws? Another Law that Sucks

Watching and writing on CA politics is difficult because not only are our elected officials mostly demagogues trying to sound important but the media who reports on them basically runs on Press Releases.

Let us take the example of (D) Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon’s newest bit of brilliance – banning plastic straws from restaurants.

If you were to read the media accounts of this you’ll see that under this newest piece of nanny-state-paternalism, waiters could be fined up to $1,000 for offering you a straw (Google News Screen shot presented as evidence with highlights added).

Google Straw Law Results

Sometimes a new agency will dig into some of the pertinent details such as when Reason Magazine pointed out that the 500 Million Straws # being cited by Calderon is nonsense:

More important than how many straws Americans use each day is how many wind up in waterways. We don’t know that figure either. The closest we have is the number of straws collected by the California Costal Commission during its annual Coastal Cleanup Day: a total of 835,425 straws and stirrers since 1988, or about 4.1 percent of debris collected.

Now I’m sympathetic to the thinking here. Even at 4.1% for straws AND stirrers being collected that’s still a crapton of plastic that shouldn’t be out there but that’s a littering problem more than anything. But think of the fishes!

Well, think of the fishes in minor ways which don’t really impact the fishes considering that 85-90% of all plastic in the Oceans comes from about 10 rivers in Africa & Asia.

This is “don’t just stand there, do something!” legislation at it’s finest but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Californians – after all our Governor banned waiters, under threat of violence, from serving you a glass of water unless you asked for one.

But let us get back to media malfeasance. First the straws and then the water.

In this straw debate everybody is talking, see Google New screenshot above, about waiters being fined. You can’t get a straw with your water you also cannot get from your waiter.

But this bill isn’t about waiters. In fact the words “waiter”, “waitress” or “server” are never mentioned and nowhere does this bill qualify that only sit-down restaurants would be targeted. Here’s the actual text of the law (emphasis added):

114082.

A food facility where food may be consumed on the premises shall not provide single-use plastic straws to consumers unless requested by the consumer. For purposes of this section, a food facility shall not include the facilities listed in subdivision (b) of Section 113789.

This is written so broadly that it doesn’t apply to meals being consumed on the premises but rather where food “may be consumed on the premises”. That would mean that Taco Bell, where food “may be consumed on the premises”,  would not be able to offer you a straw in the drive-thru or have them available next to the drinks and lids.

Not a single news agency seems to have picked up on this nuance. Now I know that the “intention” won’t be to hold fast food places to this standard but those in government should write laws that conform to their intentions and not vague laws which can, and will be, misconstrued by those enforcing them in years to come.

Aha! Some intrepid reader might say – the law actually says:

“For purposes of this section, a food facility shall not include the facilities listed in subdivision (b) of Section 113789.”

Sorry to disappoint you since that section of law is referring to this list:

(b) “Food facility” includes permanent and nonpermanent food facilities, including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Public and private school cafeterias.
  2. Restricted food service facilities.
  3. Licensed health care facilities, except as provided in paragraph (12) of subdivision(c).
  4. Commissaries.
  5. Mobile food facilities.
  6. Mobile support units.
  7. Temporary food facilities.
  8. Vending machines.
  9. Certified farmers’ markets, for purposes of permitting and enforcement pursuant to Section 114370.
  10. Farm stands, for purposes of permitting and enforcement pursuant to Section 114375.
  11. Fishermen’s markets.

Nothing on the list applies to “fast food”.

Here we have the CA Assembly Majority Leader, Calderon, pushing a bill that despite being 2 lines he himself doesn’t honestly explain to the people. To compound the issue nobody seems to have put this question to him until I just did on Twitter.

Tweet at Calderon on AB1884

But this type of media bias, malfeasance or malpractice isn’t new. When we have Politics by Press Release we end up somehow with Press Release Journalism.

I’ll illustrate with the water story mentioned previously as they fall under the same “do something” governing and impact the same dining tables.

When the State made it illegal for you to be served a glass of water without asking nobody bothered to ask how much water was actually at stake here. Broad assumptions were given but nobody had numbers just as nobody can prove the numbers of straws at play today. The closest we get to any sort of water consumption via dining out number is when Peter Gleick over at Scienceblogs did some back of the napkin math that looks like this:

Water left on the table: [315 million Americans; 260 restaurant meals a year; 6 ounces left on the table per meal; 128 ounces per gallon = 3.8 billion gallons per year]

Water needed to wash those glasses: [315 million Americans; 260 glasses of water per year; 20 glasses per dishwasher rack; 4 gallons to wash each rack = 16.4 billion gallons per year]

He gets those numbers using these assumptions:

The average American eats at a restaurant five time a week.
Water is automatically delivered to your table by the wait staff.
At the end of the meal, a half a glass of water (6 ounces) is left, undrunk.

But wait, all those glasses have to be washed as well:

Commercial dishwashers use a wide range of water, but average around 4 gallons of water per rack, and a rack holds around 20 glasses.

Water left on the table: [315 million Americans; 260 restaurant meals a year; 6 ounces left on the table per meal; 128 ounces per gallon = 3.8 billion gallons per year]

Water needed to wash those glasses: [315 million Americans; 260 glasses of water per year; 20 glasses per dishwasher rack; 4 gallons to wash each rack = 16.4 billion gallons per year]

Do you want to see how easy it is to take this sort of thing apart?

Step One: Find out the source of that first assumption.

That first assumption comes from a LivingSocial Survey of 4,000 Consumers Online.

Respondents were consumers 18 or older who have made a purchase online within the past six months or are “very likely” to make a purchase online within the next 6 months. The survey was conducted online.

The kicker here is this nugget (emphasis added):

The average American eats 4.8 meals per week in restaurants or 249 total restaurant meals per year (both dine-in and carry out).

AND. CARRY. OUT.

When was the last time you got carry out (or fast food) and had a glass of water? Most, not all but most, people order carry out with a cola of some sort. This survey, with a ridiculously small sample size considering it’s trying to baseline all of America, does not claim what the people using it state.

The survey actually says Los Angeles is the “King of the Fast Food Nation”:

L.A. residents are more likely to describe themselves as fast food junkies than residents of any other major U.S. city.

So if even half of the people eating out “nearly 5 times a week” are eating fast food and getting a soda with their meal (or a coffee or whatever) than that water left assumption falls apart. It immediately halves the number of glasses being washed as well. So that number up there drops from 20.2Billion Gallons to 10.1Billion Gallons.

Then you have to further qualify it and on and on. But nobody does this math. Nobody looks at the hard statistics despite having a giant bureaucracy to do these very things. If you’re threatening people with violence (which is what a fine/tax/fee does) you have an ethical obligation to know what the hell you’re on about and you’d better have hard data to back up your claims.

Now back to the straws.

The GOVERNMENT does not need to be involved in this issue. That video of the turtle with the straw up it’s nose is why the “Straw Free” movement exists. They are doing the work and getting their message out and the State shouldn’t be threatening people with violence because some bad actors, those littering their damn straws and stirrers at the beach, are already breaking a different law (littering!)

And the media should be doing their jobs and telling people the whole story and who all it will impact.

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