It is something every South Fork resident has experienced. It’s a perfect spring stroll on an ocean beach — ideally there’s a soft warm breeze (although not this spring), waves crashing in the background, and inevitably there’s a deflated balloon, ravaged and aged by water and wind, and the plastic coffee cup lid half buried in the sand, perhaps a plastic straw stabbing you in the foot that just moments before was enjoying the feel of cool sand.
Of course, the impact on us is far less than the impact this kind of trash has on our natural environment. It is systematic of a larger issue that plagues even the East End, an area highly valued for its pristine vistas.
While Suffolk County has mandated a 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags in an effort to promote the use of reusable bags by shoppers, with East Hampton and Southampton towns having already banned the use of most single-use plastic bags, these measures address only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the plastic waste and overall garbage found carelessly discarded on beaches, parks and even roadways. Programs like the Great East End Cleanup — held in Southampton Town this weekend in honor of Earth Day — the various activities this weekend and throughout the year at the South Fork Natural History Museum, and events like the Great Montauk Cleanup go a long way toward providing relief to our environment, with literal tons of waste collected locally over Earth Day weekend alone. But more needs to be done.
While largely left to the discretion of retailers, and restaurants in particular, the use of plastic straws and non-biodegradable take-out containers should be a thing of the past. Alternatives are available, including cardboard straws that provide a meaningful, disposable alternative that is recyclable. Cities like Fort Myers, Florida, Malibu, California and Seattle, Washington have gone as far as banning plastic straws, stirrers and utensils. With its economy so dependent on natural resources, Suffolk County would wise to perform its own cost-benefit analysis on similar proposals.
The reality is there are alternatives available — and if businesses are not willing to voluntarily look out for an environment that brings the South Fork its boost in second homeowners and tourists every summer season, maybe it is time for the county and towns to look into what other regulations are possible to protect not only our ecology, but our economy.