Curran signs law banning plastic foam

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County Executive Laura Curran signed a bill into law on June 11 banning plastic foam in Nassau. The bill signing was held at Jeremy’s Ale House in Freeport. Last month the Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously to adopt the legislation, which was co-sponsored by Legislators Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport; Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach; and Laura Schaefer, a Republican from Garden City.

“I am hopeful that today’s action reflects a major step forward,” Mulé said, “in our efforts to encourage Nassau County residents to move beyond wasteful single-use products and embrace sustainable alternatives.”

Plastic foam has been known to clog Long Island’s waterways and has increased the cost of waste disposal, Curran explained. Plastic foam is classified as a carcinogen and non-biodegradable. Recycling plastic foam is not practical and when it is broken into small pieces, it becomes harder to clean up, officials said. The plastic foam’s synthetic chemicals are hazardous waste that can cause environmental damage; it also kills marine life that accidentally eats it.

Plastic foam is the most common product cleanup crews fish out of the bays on a regular basis, according to Rob Weltner, the executive director of Operation SPLASH.

“We’re very happy that it was a unanimous decision to ban plastic foam,” Weltner said. “We’ve been trying to put ourselves ‘out of business’ for 29 years, and this will help alleviate some of the trash out in the bay.”

Businesses will have until Jan. 1, 2020 to use up their current stock of plastic foam and transfer to an alternative option.

Officials in Sea Cliff weighed in on the law’s signage as the village has made strides towards environmental-friendliness in recent years. In 2018, the board passed a local law regulating the use of plastic carry-out bags, which allows merchants to impose a 5-cent fee on customers for each plastic bag they’re provided. Later that year trustees approved legislation banning the use of single-use food packaging and plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cutlery in local eateries.

Trustee Dina Epstein, who chairs Sea Cliff’s Environmental Conservation Commission, was invited to speak before the Legislature last year at the invitation of Mulé. There, she explained how the county could imitate what Sea Cliff did to implement laws that limit plastics pollution.

“I was very glad to see the Styrofoam ban, but it would nice if they could go a little bit further,” Epstein said. “When I was there they indicated that they wouldn’t opt in to require a 5-cent fee on paper bags [if the state passed a plastic bag ban].”

This April, state lawmakers passed a law banning plastic bags in all New York retail stores starting in March 2020. Under the plan, counties can opt to require a 5-cent fee on paper bags — 3 cents of which would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, used to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. The other two cents would go to counties to purchase and hand out reusable shopping bags to residents.

Epstein said residents in Sea Cliff have embraced the plastic bag ban and provided positive feedback. “All of Long Island is a coastal community,” she said, “and I would encourage the [county] legislature to do what Sea Cliff has done and follow our lead.”

Jeremy’s, located on the Nautical Mile, is known for its iconic 32-ounce foam cup of beer that the bar-restaurant has been using for nearly 50 years. Before the signing of the bill, Jeremy’s held a mock open casket funeral for “Mr. Styrofoam” — a doll made out of plastic foam food trays and cups. Jeremy Holin, the owner of Jeremy’s Ale House, gave a eulogy.

“We’re gathered here for a dear friend. Before the county executive signs this, I’d like to say, ‘Good-bye Mr. Styrofoam, we’ll all miss you’ — except for them,” Holin said with a laugh as he pointed at the members of some Long Island environmental groups, including Operation SPLASH.

Solemn classical music played as regulars at Jeremy’s sipped beer out of their massive white cups inscribed with “RIP” in honor of the new ban. Holin said the bar would use what’s left of their plastic foam cups through the summer and then switch over to 32-ounce plastic cups.

In January 2020, any business violating the law will be issued fines from the Office of Consumer Affairs. Fines for a first offense are up to $500, second offenses up to $1,000 and third or more offenses up to $2,500. The money from those funds will provide for environmental investigation and cleanup of county properties, officials said.

Anthony O’Reilly contributed to this story.