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County seeks to ban single-use plastics

Single-use plastics could become a thing of the past in Suffolk County.

On February 12, Southampton Town adopted a new code amendment that will ban plastic straws and polystyrene (Styrofoam) take-away containers at food establishments.

The new law goes into effect in May — and Suffolk County could follow suit.

The Suffolk County Single-Use Plastic Reduction Task Force, led by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), outlined several new policy initiatives aimed at reducing plastic litter.

The proposed bills would impact restaurants and county facilities, she said during a press conference February 13.

Under the proposal, restaurants would be barred from providing plastic straws, except to those with disabilities whose conditions necessitate their use. Restaurants would instead be required to provide biodegradable straws, such as those made from paper.

Polystyrene products would also be restricted, unless used to store eggs, raw meat, pork, fish, seafood and poultry, according to a press release.

County facilities concession stands would also be banned from distributing single-use cups, utensils or beverage straws made from non-biodegradable substances. The proposal would require the county to install water fountains that allow for bottle filling at its facilities, such as parks.

If adopted by the legislature, the implementation of each phase would be staggered, with the polystyrene ban taking effect first and the straws and plastic stirrers policy beginning in 2020. The ban on single-use plastics at county concessions would be included in future license agreements and existing water fountains would be replaced as they age, officials said.

Worldwide, concern about plastics and their impact on health and the environment are mounting.

“Now, with the backing of science and evolving public awareness, support for policies limiting and banning substances that threaten human health and our environment has reached a turning point. It’s time to take a stand against this growing threat,” Ms. Hahn said.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, adding to the existing estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in the seas. In turn, plastics have been found in more than half of all seabirds and in every species of sea turtle.

“Minute micro-plastics and fibers, measuring the width of a human hair or far less, have been found in an extraordinary range of products, such as honey and sugar, shellfish, bottled and tap water, beer, processed foods, table salt and soft drinks, which means that just like the sea turtles and birds, we humans are ingesting plastic virtually every day,” Ms. Hahn said.

This isn’t the first attempt to ban plastics in Suffolk County. A Styrofoam ban was floated in 1988, and in 2013 Ms. Hahn introduced similar legislation that never passed.

The latest initiative comes a year after county lawmakers imposed a five-cent fee on single-use plastic bags.

Southampton Town banned plastic bags in 2015.

“It’s been 30 years since Suffolk first sounded the alarm on the dangers of single-use plastic,” Ms. Hahn said. “During those three decades, not a single piece of plastic has biodegraded. We must reduce use now or suffer the consequences for generations to come.”