This week, the state of California decided to crack down on a great evil. Not human feces on the street, which seems to be multiplying at an exponential rate in cities like San Francisco; not used needles, which have begun cropping up in residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including my own; not even people purposefully infecting others with HIV, which will no longer be a felony.
No, the legislators of California are cracking down on plastic straws.
In the last several weeks, San Francisco and Santa Barbara announced tough new crackdowns on the nefarious little items. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors announced a possible new ordinance preventing restaurants and retailers from handing out straws, stirrers and toothpicks beginning next year. Those outlets would also be prohibited from selling single-use food service products—so say goodbye to your iced coffee cup. “This is about changing people’s behavior,” supervisor Ahsha Safai explained, in traditional Nanny State language.
But if San Francisco is the home of the Nanny State, Santa Barbara is home to Big Brother. If you repeatedly hand out straws to customers in that beautiful city, you could face fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 plus six months in prison—per offense. So while California is busily downgrading felonies to misdemeanors and releasing criminals back onto the streets thanks to prison overcrowding, we could have a whole new Starbucks-to-prison pipeline.
For what it’s worth, Seattle, San Luis Obispo and Malibu have also embraced the straw ban, too.
Now, is such a straw ban necessary? Not really. The oft-cited statistic that suggests that Americans use 500 million straws per day is utterly nuts, and based on the research of a nine-year-old. Seriously. Five countries are responsible for 60 percent of all plastic waste dumped in the ocean: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, according to a study released by Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey. The United States ships a lot of our waste plastic to China for recycling, for example, and China then reportedly dumps it in the ocean.
But the vast majority of plastic waste in the ocean that threatens sea life isn’t straws—as Adam Minter of Bloomberg Opinion points out, even if there were 8.3 billion plastic straws washing around the ocean, that would amount to 0.03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastic waste on the high seas. Nearly half of all the ocean waste in the enormous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing nets—which, not surprisingly, tend to trap sea creatures. Cleaning up fishing gear would be a far better use of time and resources than cracking down on my kid’s juicebox.
But it doesn’t make us feel good to spend time on actual problems. It makes us feel special to plaster “SAVE THE WHALES” bumper stickers on our Priuses and withhold our approval from bendy straws. It gives us that little surge of do-gooderism, with little actual sacrifice—except from businesses that will have to pick up the cost of buying more expensive alternatives. Will all of this have any major impact on the environment? Of course not, just as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban fizzled out.
If straws are criminalized, only criminals will have straws. And I’m stocking up at Costco, planning my straw smuggling ring. I plan to become the Tony Montana of plasticware. And we should all remember that there are no illegal straws, just undocumented utensils.
Here’s the bottom line: no matter how many plastic straws they ban, the legislators of California won’t stop sucking.
Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” available on iTunes and syndicated across America.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.