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City of Santa Barbara, California, passes straw ordinance with harsh penalties, including jail time

A new plastic straw ordinance in Santa Barbara, California, allows for jail time for repeat violators. (nicomenijes/Getty Images)

Santa Barbara, California, is the latest municipality to ban plastic straws but this city's ordinance carries some exceptionally harsh penalties — including potential jail time.

The ordinance for the California coastal city applies to anyone who hands out plastic straws at restaurants, bars, or other food establishments, Fox News reported.

What are the details?

Under the measure passed earlier this month, first-time offenders will receive a written warning notice. The second offense could be met with a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison term of up to six months. The ordinance is set to go into effect in 2019.

Assistant City Attorney Scott Vincent told Reason.com that criminal charges would probably be pursued only for repeat offenders and if other “aggravating circumstances” are present.

Seattle has a similar law, but it’s not quite as harsh, the report states. An ordinance passed there in early July allows businesses to be slapped with a $250 fine.

The driving force behind the laws are concerns over the problems that plastics cause for marine life, according to reports.

Council member Kristen Sneddon reportedly said Santa Barbara has an important responsibility because it is located along the coast, has an affluent population and is a popular tourist spot.

Santa Barbara’s ordinance is unique because it has no exemption for the disabled. That is a potential problem because some disabled people cannot drink without a straw, according to published reports.

Starbucks grabbed headlines earlier this month when it became the largest global food and beverage operation to adopt a straw ban. Within two years, the company plans to eliminate plastic straws from all of its stores.

Marriott International and American Airlines also followed Starbucks’ lead.

What impact do straws have on pollution?

According to National Geographic, straws contribute to the plastic trash polluting the world’s oceans. Americans use an estimated 500 million straws every day, the report said.

Elsewhere, the board of supervisors in San Francisco on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance to ban plastic straws along with carryout containers and certain kinds of wrappers, the report states.

"San Francisco has been a pioneer of environmental change, and it's time for us to find alternatives to the plastic that is choking our marine ecosystems and littering our streets," Supervisor Katy Tang said in a statement.

A second approval is required for San Francisco's legislation, which would go into effect on July 1, 2019.

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