One year after Santa Barbara’s City Council got way more than 15 minutes of noisy and unwanted fame for passing an ordinance banning plastic straws and plastic cutlery, the actual ordinance went quietly into effect this week beginning Monday, July 1.
Initial media accounts of the council’s environmentally minded ordinance indicated violators could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in the hoosegow. In fact, fines range from $100 to $250 — with no jail time — and will be imposed only on repeat offenders, and then only after numerous outreach efforts have failed, according to City Hall’s straw czar Rene Eyerly. Waste Reduction Outreach teams, Eyerly said, have already notified owners of restaurants, bars, cafés, hotels, caterers, and corner stores that single-use straws of any kind can be made available only to customers who need such devices because of a physical handicap; plastic cutlery can be provided only upon demand.
Plastic straws made from corn or sugarcane are covered by the city’s ban, too. Businesses that use reusable straws are free to provide these to their customers as long as they collect and clean them for reuse. Single-use paper straws can be composted and are allowed.
When Santa Barbara adopted the ban last summer, it became the 10th California city to do so, a symbolic and practical expression of outrage over the quantity of plastic making its way into the ocean and marine environment. Only Councilmember Randy Rowse objected, arguing Santa Barbarans have always exceeded expectations when asked to make voluntary lifestyle changes for the good of the environment. Since then, public concern over plastic pollution has achieved political critical mass, and the State Legislature enacted a ban of its own. In the intervening months, many purveyors of plastic straws have switched to paper or reusables.