Two Suffolk County laws intended to reduce the use of plastics went into effect on Jan. 1. One prohibits the possession, sale, or use of disposable polystyrene foam food service items in all stores and food service establishments. The other requires that single-use beverage straws and stirrers be provided to consumers only upon request.
The move follows the Town of East Hampton’s 2019 ban on polystyrene products, added to a law prohibiting single-use plastic bags.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a nongovernmental body of the World Health Organization, reclassified styrene from a possible human carcinogen to a probable one in May 2018. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth-largest creator of hazardous waste in the country. There is no practical method to recycle polystyrene and its incineration releases toxic fumes.
Plastic straws are among the top litter items found on beaches. They are often ingested by marine life, causing injury and sometimes death.
As of Jan. 1, no food service establishment, mobile food commissary, or store may possess, sell, or offer for use any disposable food service container that consists of polystyrene foam. No manufacturer or store may sell or offer for sale polystyrene loose-fill packaging. Single-use beverage straws and stirrers can be provided to consumers only upon request and must be biodegradable. Straws may not be wrapped in plastic.
Food packaging that has been filled and sealed before receipt by the food service establishment or store, containers used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood, or poultry sold from a retail case, electronics that are packaged in polystyrene loose-fill packaging before entering the store, and prepackaged single-serve beverages in which a small plastic straw is included in the packaging are exempt from the law.
Beverage straws and stirrers may be provided at a drive-through window or self-service beverage station without a request by the consumer, but they must be biodegradable. A consumer with a disability or a medical condition may be provided with a plastic or other nonbiodegradable straw or stirrer upon request.
The County Health Department will enforce both laws during inspections and on a complaint basis where applicable. The department’s focus during the first six months of the year will be on educating the business community and the public, and on the best way to comply with the laws. Violations for noncompliance will be cited as of Jan. 1, but formal enforcement action will be pursued only for violations on or after July 1.