Eager to get local restaurants to declare their independence from plastic straws this summer and beyond, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), members of the County’s Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force and leading environmental advocates today called on Suffolk eateries to go straw-less through a countywide initiative intended to reduce single-use plastic straw waste originating from these establishments. Dubbed Strawless Suffolk, the initiative’s launch coincides with the start of the summer vacation season, and organizers hope to convince restaurants to stop “grasping at straws” during a time when their business and plastic straw use increases exponentially.
The initial goal for Strawless Suffolk organizers will be to convince 100 restaurants in seaside downtowns like Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue, and Port Jefferson Village, who rely upon pristine waterfronts, to take a pledge this summer to stop using plastic straws. Restaurants that agree to take the pledge will be provided with a decal to identify the establishments as a Strawless Suffolk participating restaurant. To be eligible for recognition, restaurants can elect to pursue one or all of three scenarios: stop using straws completely; provide biodegradable straws made from paper or bamboo upon request; and/or provide reusable straws made of stainless steel or glass. Twenty-five restaurants have already agreed to take the pledge, including the Purple Elephant in Northport, where Strawless Suffolk today held its kick-off announcement.
In Suffolk County, which boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches, a thousand miles of shoreline, and waterways teaming with marine life, the innocuous plastic straw has become a tangible threat to the county’s tourist driven economy, littering our beaches with debris and threatening turtles, birds and other marine life.
Every day, Americans discard a half a billion plastic straws, many of which find their way into oceans and inland waterways, which to put in perspective, could wrap around the Earth 2.5 times per day. What’s more, nearly 90% of all marine debris is made of plastic, including plastic straws.
“The beauty of our beaches and natural landscape is what drives Suffolk County’s estimated $5.6 Billion tourist economy,” said Legislator Hahn. “And yet, all over the County, our beaches and parks are littered with plastic straws and other plastic debris. What’s even more distressing is the suffering these useless bits of plastic inflict on vulnerable wildlife. Suffolk is joining the worldwide movement to save our oceans and beaches, starting right here at home.”
Now, Hahn is partnering with the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter, the Suffolk County Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force she created earlier this year, and leading environmental groups throughout Suffolk to protect our beaches, waterways and marine life from the harm inflicted by these unnecessary byproducts of our disposable society.
Clean Water Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation and Suffolk County Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force member Colleen Henn said, “Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter launched its Strawless Summer on May 1, 2018 with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of plastic straws used. Since, we have been overwhelmed by the acceptance and success of our initiative. We are heartened to be working alongside Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn and a coalition of organizations to implement a county-wide ‘Strawless Suffolk.’ Surfrider hopes that this movement will encourage a deeper dialog about reducing the prevalence of single-use plastics in our daily lives.”
Dr. John K. Galiotos of Suffolk County Community College who also serves on the task force reported, “Suffolk County Community College and our Center for Sustainability supports the reduction and use of plastics that eventually enter the waste stream and potentially harm our environment. We should all follow Legislator Hahn’s lead and strive for a Strawless Suffolk at the county’s parks and beaches and help via education and best practices to preserve our environment and wildlife."
Plastic straws are available everywhere and often provided without being requested, but more and more cities, countries, corporations and international resorts are making strides to reduce use and/or plastic straws, including Seattle, Washington, which goes Strawless starting this July. The cities of Malibu, San Luis Obispo and Davis in California and Fort Myers Beach, Florida have already gone Strawless. An impressive list of resorts and other major venues have also gone Strawless too, including Smithsonian Institution Museums, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Ikea and the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii.
According to Kimberly Williams, a Marine Science teacher in the Smithtown School District, "Plastic straws are one of my marine science classes' top litter finds! When we get served a drink without a straw, my students and I know this is a restaurant we want to patronize-they care about our island home! We say ‘Thanks for not putting garbage in my drink!’ If my students can do it, so can you! Cheers to the restaurants that sign-on, you will have our loyalty and appreciation!"
Environmental journalist and Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force member Erica Cirino said, “As a journalist covering the global story of plastic pollution, I have learned that straws are one of the most common forms of trash on beaches throughout the world. A growing number of municipalities are recognizing their role in reducing the volume of plastic that winds up in the natural environment, including Vancouver, Berkeley, Seattle, Miami Beach and other major cities.”
“Plastic is made from petroleum, and may potentially leach hormone disrupting chemicals, so minimizing its use near our food is a reasonable preventive measure. Since there are paper alternatives and even reusable glass or metal alternatives, there really is no need for these useless bits of plastic,” said Beth Fiteni, Director of Green Inside and Out.
Earlier this year, Hahn created The Single Use Plastic Reduction Taskforce through Resolution 92-2018, which she co-sponsored along with Legislator Thomas Muratore. The Task Force was established to recommend strategy for reducing the use of plastic products and examine ways to increase recycling so plastics that are used won’t end up polluting our environment. Strawless Suffolk is the Task Force’s first initiative.
As chairperson of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environmental Committee, Hahn has sponsored several pieces of legislation designed to reduce pollution of waterways, including a bill to ban the sale of personal care products containing microbeads that get into the waste stream and pollute waterways, as well as legislation to establish the Plastic Reduction Task Force, and of course, Suffolk County’s recent legislation to reduce the impact of plastic bags, which Hahn co-sponsored.
Here in Suffolk, the Surfrider Foundation has sponsored more than two dozen volunteer beach clean-ups that have removed more than 4,000 pounds of trash from our coastal areas.