A new law would mandate that customers in Ulster restaurants only be provided with a single-use plastic straw if they specifically asked for one. The proposed legislation will be the subject of a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 20.
The proposal is in response to recent concerns about plastic straws being bad for the environment. “It’s not going to save the world, it’s going to start a conversation,” said county Legislator Dave Donaldson, a Kingston Democrat and one of the law’s sponsors. “It’s to kind of to make people aware. It’s not a ban — restaurants and people that give out straws do it even when people don’t want him. Now they’ll ask. It’s the beginning of the conversation on getting things that you don’t need to want but get anyway.”
As opposed to the “Bring Your Own Bag Law” proposed by the legislature earlier this year which would outlaw polystyrene bags entirely and has been tabled until a SEQR review is completed, the straw law lets the consumer choose whether to contribute to the planet’s growing amount of plastic waste. Plastic straws claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of sea creatures and more than a million birds per year, according to the National Wildlife Federation. According to The New York Times, between 63 billion and 142 billion plastic straws are used globally per year.
To inform patrons of the law, eateries would be required to post signs that read “Single Use Straw Available on Request.” The law would carry a $25 dollar fine for a restaurants’ first offense, $50 for its second and a $100 fine for the third.
Donaldson, who is cosponsoring the bill with Legislator Joe Maloney of Saugerties, says that the initiative would save county businesses money.
Legislator Tracey Bartels, D-Gardiner, said she’s in favor. “One thing I like about the policy is that it’s really a first step. It’s not banning straws, its requiring that places that offer straws actually offer them,” Bartels said. “I think there’s both a local and national move toward awareness — I think if asked, a lot of people won’t take a straw.”
Donaldson said other communities which have enacted similar legislation have seen a marked decrease in plastic waste, and he said he hopes that this measure will snowball into other policies preventing waste. Donaldson noted that there has also been some discussion about regulating the use of plastic cutlery in the legislature.
“When you get Chinese food and they end up throwing in all these soy packets and things that I don’t use and I don’t want them but they throw them in anyway. Same with the plastic silverware, I don’t use it,” said Donaldson. “The problem is that they just stick it in there. The straws are starting a conversation on things that you’re not going to use.”
Ulster County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, did not return phone calls seeking comment.