Suffolk County Tackles Single-Use Plastic

A proposed fifth bill in a series of single-use plastic bills was laid on the table at a Suffolk County legislature public hearing, Tuesday March 5, that would require vendors to implement sustainable packing measures. This bill would require businesses to transition from plastic materials, like styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap, to paper or cardboard inserts.

The five bills, proposed by Majority Leader Kara Hahn and Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force members, aim to regulate plastic used by business owners. The first bill, which would require restaurants to provide straws by request only, could be in effect by January 2020 if passed.

“We do have some small amendments and I’m going to take some time with the task force to review proposed changes,” Hahn said, including providing restaurants and businesses the opportunity to “phase out” all single-use plastic they have in storage.

The other proposed bills would ban restaurants from using polystyrene products like plates, take-out containers and cups and require county parks and beaches to use biodegradable utensils at concession stands and provide water bottle refill stations.

The main objection to transitioning to biodegradable alternatives is cost, Mark Haubner, Vice President of North Fork Environmental Council (NFEC) said.

“Offer suggestions so people don’t say, ‘Don’t just bring me a problem. Bring me a problem and a solution,’” he said.

The five-cent plastic bag fee, that was legislated January 1 last year, and the proposed “request only” bill are excellent examples of waste reduction, Turner said, which can be solution for cutting costs.

“Waste reduction has economic, fiscal and environmental benefits,” John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, said.

While county representatives continue onward with legislation, members of environmental organizations, like NFEC, The Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation’s Long Island Chapter, and Green Inside and Out, have decided to take measures into their own hands.

“The organizations communicate with each other to make sure they’re not overlapping on each others efforts,” Jane Fussulo, Sierra Club’s Long Island Group treasurer, said. Sierra Club is a national nonprofit environmental organization.

NFEC has already provided restaurant owners in Southhold and Riverhead with sustainable alternatives cost estimates. At meetings, the organization splits up into four focused sections that research alternatives, crunch numbers, advocate and educate.

“Legislation is going to restrict things in some shape or form, but we also hope that people will adapt and kind of do things voluntarily,” Debbie O’Kane, program director for North Fork Environmental Council, said.

The next Suffolk County legislature public meeting is March 26 in Hauppauge.