SUFFOLK COUNTY—Executive Steve Bellone announced on Monday, April 20 that he would sign legislation aimed at reducing unnecessary plastic and polystyrene foam consumption. Both pieces of legislation, which were approved by the county Legislature earlier this month, restrict the use of plastic straws and ban food and beverage businesses from using polystyrene foam containers.
“These latest measures cement Suffolk County’s reputation as a statewide leader in protecting our environment,” Bellone said.
Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson), who also serves as majority leader, sponsored the legislation. Hahn believes the move has “set the course toward sustainability over expediency” for the county’s future. “It is most fitting that on Earth Day, we as a county have formally codified our commitment to addressing the proliferation of single-use plastics, which is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time,” she added.
The first bill requires that straws and beverage stirrers at food-service establishments be provided to customers upon request only, according to officials. However, this bill doesn’t apply to pre-packaged individual serving beverages where a small plastic straw is included in the packaging, or beverages purchased at drive-through windows in fast-food restaurants. The straws and beverage stirrers provided, on request, must also be biodegradable.
Businesses that violate the law face a $100 fine. Second violations will be subject to a $200 fine. Third-time offenders face a $400 fine.
The second bill bans the use of Styrofoam trays and other serving items at eateries within the county. The legislation also prohibits the use of polystyrene loose-fill packaging, such as packing peanuts. Packages filled and sealed prior to their arrival at affected locations are excluded, as are containers used to store uncooked eggs and raw meats.
Businesses that violate the law for the first time face a fine of up to $500. Second violations will be subject to a $1,000 fine, while third-time offenders face a $2,500 fine.
The county previously imposed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Hahn reportedly stated that the move has removed a billion plastic bags within the first year. Citizens Campaign for the Environment confirmed this number in a report published last month. The new law, Hahn said, is expected to remove more than a million plastic straws within the first year.
Similar laws have been put in place throughout New York State, officials pointed out. New York City and Albany have banned polystyrene, while the Village of East Hampton has implemented laws that require customers to receive straws only upon request.
Twelve restaurants in the downtown Village of Huntington, prior to the bills’ taking effect, have pledged to either completely do away with straws, provide biodegradable straws only upon request, or provide reusable alternatives to plastic.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the move, though.
Edward Lanny Skehan, manager of Mary Dowling’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Islip, doesn’t think the laws will do much to help the environment since plastic is used in many other industries besides food service. “People are used to these plastic [items],” Skehan said, adding that paper products would cost his business three to four times as much as plastic. “But, what are you going to do?”
Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit libertarian think tank, recently published a report claiming that the “plastic bag mania” will “do more harm than good.” The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., states that plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy during production and generate 80 percent less solid waste than paper bags.
The report also argues that plastic bans won’t have much of an impact on ocean pollution since the majority of plastics in the ocean are from Asia and Africa. It also takes the stance that bag bans cost small businesses money and could put employees out of work.
Seth Needleman, who owns The Fish Store in Bayport, said his business has already made the necessary changes. Needleman started using bagasse serving trays, which are made of sugarcane, more than a few years ago. He said they cost about twice as much, but noted, “How can I operate a fish market and not care about what goes into the ocean?”
About six months ago, Needleman switched to paper straws. Every once in a while he gets a customer who complains about the change, but for the most part, Needleman said people understand that plastic straws take centuries to decompose. “The ocean is what’s putting food on my table and I have to respect it,” he added.