Ban On Plastic Straws, Styrofoam

To continue its positive trajectory in the go-green direction, Southampton Town is proposing a ban on plastic straws and polystyrene, more commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam.

Water Mill resident Tip Brolin, a member of the town’s Sustainability Committee, told the board at a November 29 work session that Southampton discards about 20 million straws and eight million Styrofoam cups a year, based on nationally-recognized numbers computed to the weighted average population, which is the regular population plus three times that in the summer months.

“If we can get by without these, the environment and the town is better off,” Brolin said. “Styrofoam is poisonous. A carcinogen is used in the manufacturing. And it does not degrade effectively, staying in the landfills and in the ocean to be eaten by sea life. Like a lot of plastics, there are hazardous byproducts, and there are alternatives, like paper straws and cups, and even bamboo straws.”

Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who sponsored the legislation, sent out a copy of the proposal to the Southampton Business Alliance and local chambers of commerce, but said she has not heard back with either support or opposition. Brolin said he and other members of the committee had talked to different businesses across the town, and said 98 percent of those asked supported or had no objection to the ban.

“They recognize that this is the direction the country is moving in,” he said. “Reducing waste helps the town both from the standpoint of waste disposal costs and increased revenue from recyclables.”

The law would effectively ban the use of Styrofoam by any restaurant or store, but would allow exceptions for prepackaged food shipped to stores and restaurants and raw meat, fish, and poultry packaged in a grocery store or other retailer. The sale of what is commonly called packing popcorn and Styrofoam coolers would also be banned.

“Globally, 30 percent of landfills are filled with Styrofoam products,” Councilman John Bouvier said.

As for straws and stirrers, plastics would be out, but in keeping with the with Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses would be allowed to keep a small stock of plastic straws on hand for those who specifically require them.

Members of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and beaches through an activist network, attended the town’s recent work session to voice its support. The organization ran a summer campaign in which it got many local businesses to go strawless. One volunteer added he hoped a ban on balloons would follow.

The board has chosen to rewrite Chapter 212 of the town code, which banned plastic bags, and is planning on holding two public hearings, one at Town Hall and one in Hampton Bays, the hamlet officials think will be one of the areas largely affected by the legislation. Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he supports the ban and said, while it won’t affect villages, he’s hoping they will follow suit. Back in September, East Hampton adopted a new amendment prohibiting single-use plastic straws.

“We shouldn’t even have it in our homes — why don’t we put a stop to Styrofoam?” Southampton native Donna Bennett said. “Let’s lead the way.”

Stainless steel straws could also be purchased by homeowners, which come with cleaning pipes or can be put in the dishwasher. Southampton will give businesses several months to clear out old inventory and bring in substitutes if or when the law is passed. There is also going to be a planned educational component, and communication between the town and residents through periodic press releases and
announcements on SeaTV.

“Help us push back the tide of garbage and push back the damage that we’ve been doing to our environment,” said Surfrider volunteer Tom Oleszczuk. “We’re way behind schedule in saving our planet.”

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