Stock photo: Wikimedia Commons

A pair of bills scheduled for public hearings at the Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday in Riverhead would ban the use of single-use plastic straws, cups, containers, beverage stirrers and other items used by food service establishments.

The proposed legislation would also ban the sale or use of polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) containers, cups and packing materials. See text of bills here and here.

The measures are sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who chairs the legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee as well as its Single-Use Plastic Reduction Task Force.

Citing data from the Ocean Conservancy indicating that annually 8 million metric tons of plastics enter the oceans, where 150 metric tons already circulate through the waters, Hahn said the impacts have been “devastating to marine life and ocean ecosystems.” Ingested plastic has been found in more than 60 percent of all seabirds and in 100 percent of sea turtles species, the legislator said.

A plastic straw is removed from a sea turtle’s nostril.

The impacts of plastic and, in particular, polystyrene are also a tangible threat to human health, Hahn said.

“The United States Department of Health and Human Services has classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and the Environmental Protection Agency says the polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States,” Hahn said.

“Furthermore, in recent years, 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,” Hahn said.

The bills make accommodations for people with disabilities whose medical conditions necessitate use of plastic straws. Additionally, the polystyrene ban exempts items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, pork, fish, seafood and poultry.

The public hearings will take place Tuesday, March 5 beginning at 2 p.m. at the Evans K. Griffing County Center, 300 Center Drive, Riverhead.

“How do you conquer a world-wide crisis?” asked Hahn. “One local county at a time if necessary. An island, like Long Island, surrounded by the ocean and the Sound with water so intricately tided to our life and our identity, should be at the forefront of this issue, not wait to be last in line.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.