Several businesses have already converted to renewable products
Come January next year, Suffolk residents will likely be slurping down their iced coffees using paper straws, instead of the usual plastic.
As Suffolk lawmakers passed bills aimed at reducing plastic and polystyrene waste in the county April 9, food business owners will need to begin the process of adjusting to the new restrictions on plastic straws and polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, food service products.
As per the new bill, food establishments would be required to provide straws and stirrers by request only, and they would have to be biodegradable — not plastic. For customers with a disability or medical condition, plastic straws will be made available by request.
“The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”
— Kara Hahn
“The scale of the worldwide single-use plastics problem has become an ever-increasing threat to our environment and everything that relies on it, including human health,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”
Some businesses in Suffolk County have already made the switch over to biodegradable options. Local’s Cafe in Port Jeff doesn’t use plastic straws and stirrers, and only uses paper goods, while Soul Brew in St. James said they switched over to paper goods at the end of last summer.
Constantinos Drepaniotis, co-owner of the Setauket Village Diner, said he and others have advocated for the environment and said the bans are quite a big step in right direction.
Drepaniotis’ diner hasn’t used Styrofoam food service products for close to two years and has begun reaching out to vendors for plastic straw alternatives. He has considered distributing reusable straws to his customers as well.
While the price of these alternatives has concerned business owners, the restaurant owner said it is business’ responsibility to be proactive and help in this environmental cause. The owner said he will not let the cost affect the business and it will adapt.
The Styrofoam bill would bar businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood and poultry. Changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States.
“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said at a Feb. 13 press conference advocating for the bills. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”
An employee from Tiger Lily Café in Port Jefferson said she dislikes plastic straws and hopes the new ban will potentially get people to bring their own reusable straws, mentioning that it is very expensive right now to purchase biodegradable alternatives, like paper straws.
While acknowledging the ban would be good for the environment, she said the cost is something a lot of entrepreneurs will have to deal with. The employee also hopes as the demands for these paper goods increase eventually the prices will go down and manufacturers will make it more cost effective.
Other businesses have been using alternatives to polystyrene containers. Setauket Pita House said it doesn’t use Styrofoam food containers and currently uses aluminum foil containers.
Officials also passed a third bill that would prohibit the sale of single-use plastic cups, utensils and beverage straws from county beaches and parks.
Last month, the Legislature approved a companion bill that would replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities and county-owned parks that have water dispensers.
The bills will now go to the county executive’s office to be signed into law.