Suffolk County to Expand Fight on Plastic Pollution

Photo by Lauren Chenault

On April 9, the Suffolk County Legislature approved two pieces of legislation, both sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator and Majority Leader Kara Hahn, that will reduce the use of plastic straws and ban food and beverage businesses from using polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) containers. The law, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and announced on Earth Day, April 22, will be enforced by Suffolk County Department of Health.

This newest fight on plastic pollution follows the law that imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper single-use bags, which began Jan. 1, 2018. According to an article on dated March 21, 2019, government officials, environmentalists and others unveiled a report that indicated a reduction in plastic bag usage by 1.1 billion a year after the law was implemented.

In a press release on, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, “These latest measures cement Suffolk County’s reputation as the statewide leader in protecting our environment. 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.”

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

According to the press release, 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 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 can get a plastic or other non-biodegradable straw or stirrer if requested.

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

While it may not be a law yet, some restaurants have been implementing their own changes already. Rob Weber at CJ’s Restaurant & Bar (which is owned by this publication’s parent company) explained they use paper straws, “plastic” cups made from corn and biodegradable packaging for leftovers and take-out, and have been for the past three years. Jim from Maguire’s said they are getting ready to make the switch from plastic straws this season, and are currently researching compostable straws, saying it’s
a good thing and they are happy to do it. The establishment never uses Styrofoam and they do not give out plastic bags (restaurants are allowed to do so). Castaway Bar & Grill also is on board with compostable straws, as well as bakery-style boxes for take-out. So while Suffolk County laws are not set to begin until next year, Fire Island dining establishments are well ahead of the curve.

Following Suffolk County’s lead, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a statewide ban on plastic bags on April 22, 2019, which will go into effect in March of 2020. Nassau County recently passed a ban on the use of Styrofoam containers, which will also begin in January 2020, a law that went into effect in New York City on Jan. 1, 2019.