Politics & Policy

Sending Waiters to Jail for Offering Plastic Straws

(Photo: Pixabay)
California’s considering it.

The state of California is considering a bill that would punish waiters at sit-down restaurants with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, for offering customers straws — because straws are bad for the environment.

According to an article in Reason, the bill was introduced by Democratic state-assembly majority leader Ian Calderon. To be fair, it doesn’t ban straws entirely, it just bans waiters from offering straws to customers who have not asked for them — so it’s not like Calderon is being totally ridiculous.

Oh wait — he is, and what’s even more ridiculous is that Calderon’s idea isn’t even really a new one. As Reason notes, the cities of San Luis Obispo and Davis already have laws that prohibit waiters from asking customers whether they would like straws, Manhattan Beach has already banned disposable plastics, and Seattle restaurant businesses will be forbidden from offering plastic straws or utensils beginning in July.

Reason reports that it isn’t exactly clear how many straws actually end up in waterways — which is the specific reason for this proposed policy — but that the California Coastal Commission estimates the number of straws and stirrers collected on the annual Coastal Cleanup Day at around 835,425 since 1988, which is only about 4.1 percent of the trash that’s been collected on those days since 1988. Has California decided that maybe it’s actually a bad thing that it has one of the lower incarceration rates in the country, and wants to do something to bump it up in the rankings a little bit? It makes absolutely no sense to me that a state that’s worked so hard to lower its prison population would even consider passing a law that might clog its jail population full of people whose only crime was asking “Would you like a straw?”

Look. The truth is, straws are awesome. I’m not afraid to admit that I even have a few of my own. They can help protect your teeth from stains when you’re drinking dark liquids, they help you avoid the germs that can be on cans or on restaurant glasses. They can also reduce the risk of choking — and I’ve got to say, I want to live!

If you’re an individual, hippy-dippy business that wants to do its hippy-dippy part, and maybe set a hippy-dippy in-house policy against offering straws, then fine. In fact, I’m sure you might get a lot of hippy-dippy California clientele who’d be more than happy to support your efforts. But there are just some things that the state shouldn’t be involved in, and I feel like a business’s offered drinking tools definitely falls into that category. Could you imagine ordering a smoothie and being expected to just smash it into your actual face instead of drinking from a straw? What about those big, fishbowl-type drinks that people think are fun to drink when they’re out with the girls? Offering one of those without also offering straws seems perhaps inhumane, and definitely less conducive to obnoxious photos showing how like totally cute everyone looks drinking together from them.

Is it bad that straws end up in waterways? Sure. Does that mean that people who provide them should end up in jail? No, and the fact that someone actually, sincerely suggested that they should makes me want to scream until my lungs give out. I think it’s pretty important to make sure that punishments fit crimes, and if you think that jail time is really an appropriate response to straw-offering, then you should probably suck on one — because you’re really too absurd to allow yourself to be talking.

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