Santa Barbara Raises Stakes for Straws with Jail Time

A proposed ordinance could result in fines and imprisonment, though it is unlikely to be enforced.

By Ethan L. Johns
July 27, 2018

Image: iStock

Change takes time, they say.

Nope, says Santa Barbara, California, as it moves quickly to not only ban plastic straws, but also to give those who distribute them a pretty strong slap on the wrist.

Last week in a meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council, members voted to advance an ordinance that prohibits restaurants, bars and other food and beverage vendors from selling or distributing plastic straws.

While first violations would result in a warning, intentional flouting of the new rule could land business owners with a misdemeanor, which means a fine of up to $1,000 plus the possibility of up to six months in prison. Bye bye plastic straws.

Also included in the legislation are plastic stirrers and plastic cutlery. While not fully banned, they must now be provided only upon request. Plastic straws will be banned outright, and must be replaced with either, for example, bamboo, paper or sugar cane.

To justify the ban, the ordinance cites Santa Barbara’s “clean and healthy environment,” the burden on landfills and the potential danger to both “local wildlife habitat” and the “marine environment.” It piggybacks off the city’s ban of plastic bags.

While other bans—like the one that Seattle recently passed—have included dispensations for consumers with disabilities, the present text of the Santa Barbara ordonnance contains no such exception.

Isn’t this all a bit harsh?

“No one will go to jail for using a plastic straw or providing a straw to a customer,” said Nina Johnson, the senior assistant to the city administrator, in a statement to Fox News, which originally used the story as an opportunity to mock environmentalism.

“There is no intention to strictly enforce the ordinance. The city’s plan is to work cooperatively with restaurants to ensure straws are available by request.”

So while a story like this will probably continue to get blown out of proportion, it certainly will not get blown through a plastic straw.


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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns