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Suffolk restaurateurs brace for new plastic straw, Styrofoam ban

After lawmakers passed legislation on Tuesday, business owners are scrambling to find replacement products, which are often more expensive.

Billy Miller, owner of Restoration Kitchen & Cocktails

Billy Miller, owner of Restoration Kitchen & Cocktails in Lindenhurst, prepares a drink with a paper straw on Wednesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk County restaurant owners said they are searching for suppliers and bracing for the expense of complying with new restrictions on plastic straws and polystyrene takeout containers.

County lawmakers passed bills Tuesday restricting the use of plastic straws and banning food and beverage businesses from using polystyrene foam containers — commonly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam — for takeout orders. 

Straws and stirrers would be available by request only in sit-down restaurants and would have to be biodegradable — not plastic — in food establishments and self-service beverage stations starting Jan. 1 under a bill passed by the Suffolk County Legislature. For consumers who have a disability or medical condition, plastic straws would be available on request.

Peter Lentzeres, owner of Peter Pan Diner in Bay Shore, said he has already started the process of searching for companies that can supply him with the paper goods. 

"It's difficult right now because everything is so overpriced," he said Wednesday. "It's a time when manufacturers are probably trying to take advantage of the fact that all of these new laws [banning plastic] are popping up and businesses are in need of these products." 

Lentzeres said he's well aware that switching from plastic straws to paper ones and from to-go containers made from Styrofoam to those made from a biodegradable alternative will cost "at least 20 to 30 percent more," but said he's all for making the change because he believes it's helpful to the environment. 

"I welcome the change," he said. "The cost … the cost is something I have to live with." 

Kevin Dugan, director of government affairs at The New York State Restaurant Association, an industry advocacy group based in Albany, said he's unsure what financial ramifications the new polystyrene and plastic straw ban will have on the group's Long Island members, but said he wouldn't be surprised if he was flooded with calls in coming days.

"That's been our experience when similar bans have gone into effect in other parts of the state," he said. "The market has simply not caught up to the demand and because of this, supply isn't where it needs to be, making it prohibitively more expensive for restaurateurs trying to comply with the new legislation." 

Similar legislation upstate has included cost provision waivers, which allow business owners who demonstrate that the new products are prohibitively more expensive to continue to use plastic products until cheaper options were available.

Such a provision was not included in the Suffolk bills, Dugan said. 

Billy Miller, owner of Restoration Kitchen & Cocktails in Lindenhurst, has been placing colorful paper straws into the drinks he makes for customers since his eatery's opening day in August. 

"I see this as a positive," said Miller, adding that he's long become tired of the overwhelming amount of pollution he's seen and picked up from nearby waterways. 

"I'm a beach guy, I'm a boat guy. ... There's been times I've picked up about three giant garbage bags worth of trash, including Styrofoam, straws and other plastics. ... So, does it cost more money? Absolutely. Is it worth it? 100 percent." 

Miller said for the price of 100 paper straws, he can buy 1,000 plastic ones. And he said he spends about $70 on a case of 250 biodegradable to-go containers. By comparison, a case of 250 Styrofoam containers costs $15.

"From a business perspective, I can't deny that it's financially draining," he said. "But I'm trying to be the difference I want to see."

Miller says he keeps a handful of plastic straws behind the bar for customers who have special needs or for parents who request them for children. 

"I try to change it up and buy straws with fun colors or patterned with stars, flamingoes, or pineapples. For St. Patrick's Day, I had paper straws with four-leaf clovers," he said. "I've had customers complain about the straws, but it's been more compliments than complaints."

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