Riverhead resident Susan Reeve with a collection of plastic debris she said she collected on the beach the morning of the legislative hearing. Photo: Suffolk County Legislature video screenshot

Residents and environmental advocates spoke out Tuesday in favor of a trio of bills aimed at banning polystyrene and reducing single-use plastics in Suffolk County.

The hearings on the measures, sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn, were recessed until the county legislature’s next general meeting March 26.

Mark Haubner of Aquebogue, vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council, urged legislators to “send a signal to the plastics industry.”

“Suffolk County is a leader” in environmental issues, Haubner said, pointing to the county’s first-in-the nation ban of the toxic insecticide DDT and its ban of laundry detergent phosphates.

“Manufacturers are not paying the costs” of plastic consumption, he said. “We are.”

“If it’s on the ground it’s in the Sound,” Haubner said. “Everything leaches out and finds its way into our surface waters. Chemicals and toxins percolate down into our drinking water.”

Haubner said manufacturers of biodegradable single-use products are working furiously to keep up with demand. With growing demand, economies of scale develop, he said. These products won’t be more expensive for much longer, Haubner said.

Aaron Virgin of Group for the East End said the bills don’t go far enough.

“Compostable items are fine,” he said. “But how are we going to compost them?”

He recalled being in a coffee shop in Lake Placid more than 20 years ago where pieces of linguini pasta were offered as coffee stirrers.

“Yet I was at a diner yesterday and I was served water with a straw and coffee with two plastic stirrers — none of which I asked for,” he said.

Jay Peltz, general counsel and senior vice president of the Food Industry Alliance, told legislators that the proposed rules would increase pressure on independent grocers, which are already under economic stress from rising costs, including increases in the minimum wage, and loss of market share to internet retailers.

He asked that legislators “take care about imposing new regulatory restrictions on grocers.”

Peltz asked that the rules be amended to exempt rigid polystyrene.

“Compliant items are not necessarily available,” Peltz noted, “and they are much more expensive.”

Furthermore, he said, grocers would have to rely on manufacturers’ representations about product compliance. They have no way of independently verifying it, Peltz said.

Legislator Al Krupski asked if manufacturers could make product changes to adapt to changes in the recyclable plastics markets, which have recently been in upheaval.

“Manufacturers aren’t going to change because of short-term trends,” Peltz replied.

Riverhead resident Susan Reeve implored legislators to take this issue seriously. She said there have been drastic changes in marine life in her lifetime. The Long Island Sound used to be alive with “acres of fish,” she said.

“Long Island Sound is nothing like what it used to be. We call it the dump now,” Reeve said.

“There are dead zones in the Sound now because of the pollution.
It’s got to stop.”

Reeve brought a collection of plastic balloons, bags and other debris with her to the legislative auditorium, which she said she picked up on a Sound beach in Riverhead Tuesday morning.

“Every time I go down there,” Reeve said. “My heart breaks. I cry.”

L.I. Aquarium executive director Bryan DeLuca spoke in favor of the bills and said he’d like to see the legislature ban the release of balloons.

He presented the legislature with photos of marine animals injured by plastic items, balloons and balloon string. Some photos showed a variety of plastic items inside the stomachs of dead marine animals.

Legislators pointed out the county already banned the release of balloons, but said the ban is “almost unenforceable.”

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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.