Suffolk County Restricts Plastic Straw Use

Jenna Schwerzmann clutches dozens of straws she picked up during a beach cleanup on Earth Day last year that was conducted by the Group for the East End and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. Rachel Bosworth photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday he will sign legislation designed to protect the environment by reducing unnecessary plastic and polystyrene foam consumption. The two pieces of legislation, both sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn and approved by the Suffolk County Legislature on April 9, restrict the use of plastic straws and ban food and beverage businesses from using polystyrene foam containers, effective January 1, 2020.

“These latest measures cement Suffolk County’s reputation as the statewide leader in protecting our environment,” said County Executive Bellone in a press release. “I want to thank Legislator Hahn for championing this effort which will go a long way in protecting Long Island’s oceans, parks, and marine life.”

“With today’s action, Suffolk has set a course toward sustainability over expediency for our County’s future,” said Ms. Hahn. “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.”

The first bill requires that straws and beverage stirrers at food service establishments be provided to consumers upon request only in Suffolk County.  Americans collectively use 500 million plastic straws per day, which contributes to plastic pollution that litters the ground and clogs oceans, rivers and waterways.

The new law does not apply to pre-packaged individual serving beverages where a small plastic straw is included in the packaging or beverages purchased at drive-thru windows. The straws and beverage stirrers provided by food service establishments upon request by a consumer or at a drive-thru window or self-service beverage station are required to be biodegradable and/or backyard compostable. A consumer with a disability or medical condition may be provided with a plastic or other non-biodegradable straw or stirrer by request.

The second bill prohibits the use, possession, offer and sale of disposable food service items consisting of polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, by food service establishments, mobile food commissaries, and stores in Suffolk County. The legislation also prohibits the uses of Polystyrene loose fill packaging, such as packing peanuts. Polystyrene foam is a common environmental pollutant and non-biodegradable substance which is non-recyclable.

Excluded from this legislation is packaging filled and sealed prior to its arrival at the effected locations, and containers used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood, and poultry.

Similar laws have been enacted across the state. New York City and Albany currently have Polystyrene bans in place, while the Village of East Hampton and the State of California implemented laws requiring the provision of straws to consumers upon request only.