California City Passes Bill That Could Lead to Jail Time for Selling Plastic Straws
Santa Barbara is cracking down on plastic straws.
The City Council for the coastal California city voted to adopt an ordinance banning the sale of plastic straws at beverage and food providers like coffee shops, smoothie bars, supermarkets, delis and restaurants. The bill was passed unanimously by the committee on July 17, according to Reason.com, but is currently being revised before being implemented on January 1, 2019, a representative for the council tells PEOPLE.
The ordinance also restricts the use of plastic cutlery and stirrers, making it so that customers must request plastic forks and knives in order to receive them. Non-plastic alternatives to straws are also only to be available upon request.
Businesses that break the law will receive a written warning after the first offense, but the second violation could result in a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail, though unlikely. Environmental Servies Outreach Coordinator, Bryan Latchford, told Santa Barbara’s local station KEYT-TV NewsChannel 3 that it would be “very hard” for someone to see the maximum punishment, and the city’s recycling team instead plans to educate people first before handing out fines.
If you’re simply walking around sucking on a plastic straw in the sunny city, you’re not at risk as the bill only applies to businesses right now—though the council is encouraging residents to “make a reusable straw (and cup) part of your daily routine,” according to their website.
The effort to eliminate plastic straws has been forging ahead for many years now—Entourage star Adrian Grenier co-founded a nonprofit Lonely Whale that calls for stores to “#StopSucking” in 2015—but the environmental cause has been making national headlines lately, most recently on July 9 when Starbucks announced their plans to get rid of plastic straws in over 28,000 of their stores worldwide by 2020. According to a company spokesperson, Starbucks’ move away from plastic is expected to eliminate over 1 billion plastic straws per year.
Santa Barbara isn’t the first city to make such a radical move towards change. On July 1, the city of Seattle banned plastic straws and utensils from “all food service businesses,” according to CNN. Violators are subject to a $250 fine.
Although there is no clear data on exactly how many plastic straws Americans use each day—500 million is a commonly used statistic, but has since been debunked—straws are among the most common type of plastic waste found in the ocean. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, at the current rate, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050.
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Julie Andersen, Global Executive Director for the non-profit organization Plastic Oceans, says there is a common misconception that straws are recyclable, but because of their low structural integrity, they cannot be re-used the same way other plastics can be. Therefore, straws and other single-use plastics, which they classify as “anything you use for an average of ten-minutes” such as water bottles, plastic cups and plastic bags, make up 50 percent of plastic waste, and often end up in the ocean, where they break down into micro-plastic and harm the ecosystem.