Starting May 8, a new law will prohibit eateries and food establishments located within the Town of Southampton from offering plastic straws, stirrers or containers made of polystyrene.
“This may be a small step but it’s a very important step,” Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who first proposed the legislation, noted. “Our environment is everything to us and anything we can do that’s not going to have harmful impacts on our businesses and residents is a no-brainer for me.”
The law was supported by the Town’s Sustainability Committee, which estimates that Town of Southampton residents and visitors dispose of approximately 20 million plastic straws and 8 million polystyrene cups each year, much of which finds its way to the Town’s beaches.
Many of those that would be impacted by the legislation were in favor of the ban, with 82 of 85 eateries and establishments that the Sustainability Committee polled supporting the ban. Some had even already stopped offering polystyrene “to go” containers.
The effort has been applauded by local conservation organizations like Surfrider and Group for the East End. “Single-use plastics have become one of the common and avoidable forms of pollution along our spectacular shorelines. However, it is a problem we can all do something about,” Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca explained. “We applaud the efforts of Southampton Town to lead the way on this important issue and look forward to other municipalities following their lead.”
“The plastic bag ban, and the new ban on plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and polystyrene foam containers in our local food establishments are the catalyst for more forward thinking in solving our dependency on single use plastics, seeking sustainable alternatives, the implementation of proper and effective recycling, and overall reduction in our consumption,” Carolyn Munaco, a lifelong resident of Hampton Bays that serves as the Rise Above Plastic Coordinator of Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island, relayed.
The law does state the restaurants will be allowed to keep a limited number of plastic straws on site for those with physical disabilities who require plastic straws.
“The signs that we are in a plastic pollution epidemic are everywhere!” Munaco noted. “Sure you can see lots of imagery and read a lot on the internet about the ramifications of plastic on animals and our environment but all you need to do is go outside and look! Beaches, waterways, roadsides, parking lots, playgrounds, ball fields, private yards… you cannot get away from it!”
It’s estimated that 500 million straws are used in the US on a daily basis, Milo Cress, who founded the Be Straw Free campaign, noted in a study. To put that into perspective, Eco-Cycle, who now hosts and promotes the campaign, explained that means you could fill more than 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year with the straw waste.
“Plastic pollution is everywhere, we need to change our ways and clean up the mess we have made,” Munaco said. “Every living organism on the planet earth is being affected by plastic pollution from the tiniest plankton to the largest whale. Bioaccumulation of toxins caused by plastic is a real threat to all the inhabitants of earth including us humans!”
By the year 2050, if no changes are made, there would be more plastic in the sea than fish (by weight), according to a report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from McKinsey & Company.
“I applaud both Southampton and East Hampton Towns for making positive steps in the right direction,” Munaco added. “Not only will these restrictions cut back on the plastics and polystyrene entering our waste stream and our environment but it is also bringing awareness and education to the people. The time for great change is now!”
During beach clean ups, straws are among the top ten items found.
Eastern LI Rise Above Plastics is hosting several upcoming cleanups. On Saturday, February 16, a cleanup will be held at 67 Steps Beach in Greenport at 1 p.m. Next, Rise Above Plastics will head to Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton Beach on Saturday, February 23 at 2 p.m. and Dirt Lot (Road B) in Montauk on Saturday, March 2 at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit easternli.surfrider.org.
“We also urge all East End residents to do whatever they can to eliminate single-use plastic products from their daily routine,” DeLuca added.