How San Diego County plans to enforce 'Skip the Stuff' law

SAN DIEGO – A recent California law is changing how restaurants dole out single-use plastics such as straws and utensils to customers — but it largely leaves it up to local municipalities to enforce the rules.

Cities and counties had until Wednesday to authorize an enforcement agency for the implementation of Assembly Bill 1276, which was signed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom. In San Diego County, that role is being filled by officials from the county’s Department of Environmental Health and Quality, county spokeswoman Donna Durckel said in an email Wednesday.

The department will serve the enforcement role for all 19 local jurisdictions, according to Durckel.

It will mark a change in how some eateries do business in the stated interest of reducing pollution from single-use items. Under the law, retail food businesses may only provide single-use accessories — such as chopsticks, splash sticks and stirrers — to customers requesting them, a state fact sheet shows.

That’s already how it’s happening at California Starbucks locations with the company announcing this week its baristas will not automatically hand out straws, cutlery or splash sticks unless asked by a customer.

Other directives from the law include not bundling single-use accessories or condiments, providing only single-use items needed to eat or prevent spills in a drive-thru or airport, and requiring third-party delivery platforms to give customers the option to request these items since they won’t automatically be included.

See the entire text of AB 1276 by clicking or tapping here.

For those flouting the law, the first and second violations will result in notices of violation. Further violations could result in a $25 fine with a $300 annual cap on fines. (Those rules don’t apply for correctional institutions, public and private school cafeterias, residential care facilities and licensed health care facilities.)

Durckel said the county’s department plans to “incorporate compliance checks for this” in its routine restaurant inspections, similar to how it does for the plastic straw rules in AB 1884 signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018.

“However, as we routinely do with new law/regulation changes, DEHQ will begin with education and guidance for regulated businesses,” she said.

Officials are seeking “voluntary compliance” with the guidelines laid out in AB 1276 before enforcement actions are required. In the next six months, Durckel said the county plans to “educate businesses” about the law through a number of avenues, including printed material, email notifications, website information and conversations initiated by field staff during inspections.

Some local municipalities such as the city of Carlsbad already are implementing aspects of the law in their communities. Starting Wednesday, the city is requiring restaurants only to provide items like condiment packets and straws to customers when specifically asked.

Also next month, the city’s ban on single-use plastic foodware and polystyrene goes into effect with enforcement slated to be phased in by July 2023.

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