Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed a Styrofoam ban into law Tuesday, joining a national movement away from plastic packaging materials and toward more biodegradable products.
The County Legislature voted unanimously last month to make it illegal to sell or distribute products made of polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. Suffolk County and New York Cityenacted similar measures this year.
Environmentalists and Nassau legislators marked the occasion Tuesday with a mock funeral: An open coffin was set for people to pay their respects. And a display was marked with well wishes.
“It’s a sad day,” Curran said, referring to the mock funeral, “but in another way, it’s a great day for our island, our planet and Nassau County.”
Attendees laughed at and took pictures of the body inside the coffin — a figurine with Styrofoam cups and boxes as its limbs and head.
“He’s supported me for so many years,” Jeremy Holin, owner of Jeremy’s Ale House in Freeport, known for its Styrofoam cups, said in his eulogy. “He’s kept beers cold on a hot summer day … I want everybody to say goodbye to Mr. Styrofoam.”
Polystyrene products are not recycled and are known to pollute air and waterways. Restaurants, cafeterias and food trucks have been using the containers because of their low cost and ability to maintain the temperature of food and drink.
Already, McDonald's has phased out polystyrene sandwich boxes. Dunkin' Donuts has pledged to eliminate polystyrene cups by 2020, replacing them with double-walled paper cups.
For Nassau businesses, Jan. 1 is when the ban on polystyrene will take effect, so restaurants and other businesses have enough time to use up their supplies and find alternatives. Fines will range from $500 to $2,500. The county Department of Consumer Affairs will handle enforcement.
Fines collected by the county will go to a special revenue fund dedicated to environmental investigations and cleanup of county properties. The money will be earmarked to cover the cost of county contracts for the remediation, according to the legislation.
Curran, along with the ban’s co-sponsors, Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) and Denise Ford (D-Long Beach), highlighted the negatives of polystyrene. It’s all part of a trend toward eco-friendliness, Curran said.
Some small businesses have expressed opposition to the ban over increased costs. For Holin, while he supports the ban, it will definitely cost his business a bit more.
Holin said it costs "three times the amount.”
“It’s fifty dollars, roughly, for a case of plastic, 240 a case, while Styrofoam is 80 dollars for 500 a case,” he said.
There’s also the cost of hiring dishwashers or dishwashing machines if switching to something more reusable, whereas polystyrene can easily be thrown away.
Mulé dismissed such concerns.
“No, this will not" affect small businesses, Mulé said. “There are alternatives that are useful, will work really well and are cost effective.”
The legislation contains some exemptions.
Stores would not be fined if a product's packaging had loose polystyrene fill inside before it was sent to the store. Also, containers with fresh produce, uncooked eggs, raw meat, fish, seafood, and pork or poultry sold from a butcher case can have polystyrene foam.
Legislators pointed to Holin’s business as a sign that eliminating polystyrene is possible: His Manhattan location is transitioning out of Styrofoam, using plastic and Mason jars. The Freeport location plans to end polystyrene use by summer’s end, Holin said.
Holin's business has been using Styrofoam for 47 years. But now, it’s coming to an end.
“It’s the way things are going,” he said. “Why fight it?”
WHERE THEY STAND ON PLASTIC, PAPER
Plastic bags will be banned statewide, starting March 1. Counties and cities will have the option of charging consumers 5 cents per paper bag.
Here's where Suffolk, Nassau and New York City stand on plastic and paper:
In Suffolk, a ban on plastic straws and Styrofoam containers goes into effect Jan. 1. Nassau's Styrofoam ban also goes into effect Jan. 1.
Suffolk already charges 5 cents for plastic and paper bags, but that law will be replaced by the state plastic bag ban, according to the governor’s office. Suffolk lawmakers are expected to pass a 5-cent fee on paper. Stores now provide free bags for produce and meat, and that will carry over even when the plastic ban goes into effect.
Nassau County's legislative leader said he won't pass the 5-cent fee on paper. Consumers currently don't have to pay for plastic or paper bags in the county.
The New York City Council has approved a 5-cent fee on paper bags, effective March 1.
Sources: Counties, city, governor’s office