County introduces ‘Strawless Suffolk’ initiative

The push for local restaurants to do away with plastics straws is growing on the East End, with Suffolk County officials calling on business owners to voluntarily ditch single-use plastic straws in favor of eco-friendly alternatives.>

Officials have introduced the ‘Strawless Suffolk’ initiative to help combat plastic pollution. The countywide effort asks restaurants — especially those on the waterfront — to forego plastic straws. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), along with members of the county’s Plastics Reduction Task Force and environmental advocates, held a press conference in Northport Monday to unveil the plan.

“That’s just part of our overall use of disposable plastic that really has to change,” Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said following the press conference Monday. “I think we really need to rethink how we use all these disposable items. They’re used for only a few minutes, and then end up forever in some dump somewhere. There’s such a big environmental impact from disposable plastic use.”

Plastic waste often finds its way into the ocean harming fish and other marine life. At one beach cleanup in Greenport, the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation reported removing 922 straws from the shore.

Strawless Suffolk was modeled after the Surfrider Foundation’s Strawless Summer 2018 campaign. So far more than 30 East End restaurants and two schools have taken the pledge to voluntarily stop offering plastic straws. The organization’s Clean Water Coordinator, Colleen Henn, also sits on the county’s Plastics Reduction Task Force and has helped advise the members since its formation in March. A goal has been set to pledge 100 restaurants across Suffolk County by Labor Day, Henn said.

“Given the success and acceptance of Strawless Summer, we are extending that framework countywide,” she said. “In the future, we hope to target other single-use plastic items.”

Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos in Greenport and Little Lucharitos in Aquebogue, said his restaurants stopped using them several months ago.

“We’re so close to the water A pet peeve of mine, when I bring my kid to the beach and see garbage floating in there,” LaMaina said. “We’re a really busy restaurant, and I don’t want to contribute to that.”

Both locations now use paper straws and stopped selling plastic bottles, LaMaina added.

The Long Island Aquarium has also eliminated plastic straws from its café. The organization joined the Surfrider Foundation in its Strawless Summer 2018 pledge when it launched this spring.

“Our mammal trainers brought [the problem] to our attention last year and we started looking for alternative options and hid the straws behind the counter, but people were constantly asking for them,” said director of marketing Darlene Puntillo. “As an aquarium, we think it’s important [to stop offering plastic straws] because it’s such a problem.”

The café has since switched to all compostable or recyclable products, Puntillo said. That includes getting rid of traditional juice boxes that came with children’s meals, which caused a issue, not only because of the straws, but the plastic wrapping the straws are sealed in. Milk cartons are now offered as an alternative.

“The wrappers were clogging up the sea lion pool and really making a mess,” she said. “If it was making that big of a problem here, we could only imagine what they are doing to the ocean.”

The county’s Strawless Suffolk campaign does not require businesses to comply by law, nor does it provide incentives for owners to switch from plastic to more expensive alternative products. The task force is expected to provide the legislature with recommendations, however, plans to enact a law mandating a ban on straws is not currently in the works, according to Ms. Hahn’s office.

As for the added costs, LaMaina said he’s optimistic that the price of alternatives will drop as demand increases.  

“Every little thing that we can do helps, but at the same time we have to keep costs,” LaMaina said. “We’re a business. The more businesses that do it the cheaper the price comes down for everybody, but it’s a great thing.”

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Photo caption: Plastic straws picked up from the beach (Surfrider Foundation courtesy photo)