Plastic Straw and Stirrer Ordinance

In May of 2019, the Somerville City Council passed an ordinance banning the use of plastic straws and/or stirrers in all food and retail establishments within the City of Somerville. This ordinance will go into effect on February 9, 2020; however, during the first six months, only warnings will be issued to give businesses a chance to substitute alternative products.

This ordinance is the latest step that the City of Somerville has taken to protect the marine environment, advance solid waste reduction, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect waterways. To date, the City of Somerville has also enacted plastic bag bans and Styrofoam bans toward the same goals.

Under this ordinance, retail establishments will no longer be permitted to offer customers plastic, single-use plastic straws or stirrers at the point-of-purchase or at self-serve food or beverage stations, unless a specific request is made by a customer. If retailers or restaurants do plan to provide plastic straws or stirrers, upon request only, they must also post a printed sign in any area where other single-use items, such as utensils, are provided. If a retail establishment is found to be non-compliant with this ordinance, the first violation will result in a warning. Subsequent violations will carry a fine.

Please review the information below for more information. If you have questions regarding enforcement of this ordinance or other regulations, please contact the Inspectional Services Department, Health Division at (617) 625-6600 x4331.

  • Alternatives & Exemptions

  • Frequently Asked Questions

  • Office Hours for More Information

Alternatives

In place of plastic straws, alternative items include those made from non-plastic materials including:

  • Paper
  • Hay
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Bamboo
  • Pasta
  • Candy

Alternatively, consider using lids that customers may drink directly from.

Exemptions

  • Health care facilities are exempt.
  • This ordinance also does not apply in emergency situations.
  • Items in retail stores where plastic straws come as part of the packaging (i.e. juice boxes) are exempt. These items can still be sold.

When does the ordinance take effect?

The ordinance goes into effect on February 9, 2020.

Who is affected by this ordinance?

Once the ordinance goes into effect, food establishments that sell prepared food and City departments cannot hand out or sell plastic stirrers or straws. That includes straws and stirrers made from compostable or biodegradable petroleum or biologically based polymer materials.

Plastic straws can be made available to customers by request. The ordinance does not prohibit any resident from buying and using their own plastic straws or stirrers. Schools have an additional year to comply with the ordinance.

What is a food establishment for the purpose of this ordinance?

Any business requiring a permit to operate in accordance with State Food Code, 105 CMR 5900.000 is subject to this ordinance. The ordinance applies to any business that sells food such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops, convenience stores, food/drink vendors at events, and food trucks. It also applies to City departments.

Why can plastic straws be handed out on request?

Because of disabilities or other medical conditions, it is difficult or impossible for some people to use other types of straws. Offering plastic straws upon request ensures those customers still have access to businesses. If a business has a self-serve area for items like straws, utensils, napkins, and lids, it should put up a sign reading “plastic straws available upon request” to let customers know they are available.

What type of straws and stirrers can a business hand out?

There are a variety of both disposable and reusable straws and stirrers made from non-plastic materials including paper, hay, glass, metal, bamboo, pasta, and candy. Click here to view a list of vendors that offer compliant straws and stirrers. There are also sippy cup style lids for cups. If you are a business owner looking for alternatives, check with companies you buy supplies from for suggestions. If a drink comes with a straw already attached (for example, a juice box), it may be handed out as is.

How will the ordinance be enforced?

During regular inspections or if a complaint is received, City inspectors will confirm compliance with the ordinance. If a business is found to be non-compliant the first violation will result in a warning. Subsequent violations will carry a fine: $100 for the second offense, $300 for the third and higher offense.

If you need more information or would like to ask questions about the ordinance and enforcement, we invite you to one of four “office hours” in the coming weeks. All meetings will be held in the conference room at the City Hall Annex, 50 Evergreen Ave.:

  • Thursday, January 30, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, February 4, 9 – 11 a.m.
  • Thursday, February 20, 5 – 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 16, 5 -7 p.m.