The Suffolk County Department of Health Services today is reminding vendors and consumers that two local laws intended to reduce the use of plastics in Suffolk County went into effect on January 1, 2020. Local law 14-2019 prohibits the possession, sale or use of disposable polystyrene foam food-service items in all stores and food-service establishments, and local law 20-2019 requires that single-use beverage straws and stirrers are provided to consumers only upon request.
Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken, said, “These laws are consistent with the Department of Health Services’ mission to protect public health and the environment. Staff in our Bureau of Public Health Protection has been educating the business community about the new laws and will continue to do so after they become effective.”
Beginning on January 1, no food-service establishment, mobile food commissary or store can 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 may be provided to consumers only upon request and must be biodegradable. Straws may not be wrapped in plastic.
Exempt from the law are packaging that is used for foods that have 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 pre-packaged single-serve beverages in which a small plastic straw is included in the packaging. Beverage straws and stirrers may be provided at a drive-through window or self-service beverage station without a request by the consumer. However, these straws and stirrers must be biodegradable. A consumer with a disability or a medical condition may be provided with a plastic or other non-biodegradable straw or stirrer if the consumer so requests.
The rationale for the ban of certain plastics in Suffolk County is to protect public health and the environment. In May 2018, styrene was reclassified from a possible human carcinogen to a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a non-governmental body of the World Health Organization. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the U.S. There is no practical method to recycle polystyrene and incineration of polystyrene releases toxic fumes. The use of biodegradable or compostable foodservice products will reduce the waste stream and cost of waste disposal in Suffolk County.
Plastic straws are among the top 10 pollution debris items found on beaches and contribute to plastic pollution that litters the ground and clogs oceans, rivers, and waterways. Plastic straws are frequently ingested by marine life, causing adverse life effects and possibly death.
Several alternatives to plastic food-service items already exist. Biodegradable bioplastics are already widely available to meet the vast majority of food-service needs including recyclable paperboard and compostable bagasse, which are made from the fibers of sugarcane. Customers may choose to drink beverages without using a straw, or they may opt for disposable, single-use paper straws, reusable straws made of metal, glass, silicone, or bamboo.
The Department of Health Services will enforce both laws during routine inspections, and on a complaint basis where applicable. Violations for non-compliance will be cited beginning on January 1, 2020, but formal enforcement action will only be pursued for violations cited on or after July 1, 2020. The Department’s focus during the first six months of the year will be educating the business community and the public about these laws, and best practices for compliance.
Further information about the new local laws to reduce the use of plastics in Suffolk County may be obtained from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Public Health Protection at 631-852-5999.