ALBANY — County Executive Dan McCoy signed an executive order on Thursday, Sept. 12 banning the use of all single-use plastic straws and stirrers from county departments and operations including vendors .
Instead, county departments will begin using compostable, recyclable or reusable straws.
“Each year approximately 8.8 million tons of plastic are thrown away. It eventually makes its way into our overburdened landfills or worse — they clog our drainage systems, flow into our waterways and oceans and threaten ecosystems,” said McCoy in a statement.
The order comes as the Legislature is debating a bill, sponsored by Joanne Cunningham, D-Bethlehem, that would require customers ask for plastic straws and cutlery rather than automatically get handed one when ordering a beverage or a meal. That bill is slated for a second public hearing on Sept. 24
“We are happy to see the county executive is taking steps to make Albany County greener,” said Andrew Joyce, chair of the Albany County Legislature, “why he wants to push similar initiatives the Legislature has already been working on is a bit of a mystery. Although the Legislature has already started the process with Local Law F, we welcome the county executive to provide input as we continue the review process to ensure it benefits all of Albany County.”
McCoy submitted legislation requiring all businesses and organizations that offer beverages for public consumption to follow suit in Albany County.
“We are first applying these important standards to ourselves before we ask the rest of the community to do the same,” McCoy said. “In doing so, we are investing in the market of the future, one that doesn’t rely on petroleum, but instead materials that are biodegradable.”
The ban would not apply to individuals with disabilities or other impairments requiring the use of plastic straws, including those living at Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Similarly, medical and dental facilities would be exempt, as well as pre-packaged drinks sold in stores. Bendable straws are handy for some who are ill and/or infirmed.
Any establishment that violates the Local Law would first be issued a warning. A second offense would lead to a $50 fine; a third offense would mean a $100 fine; and the fourth and subsequent offenses would lead to a $250 fine, according to McCoy’s office.
Municipalities across the country are banning single-use plastic materials such as bags, straws and cutlery. Earlier this summer, New York state passed a law banning the use of plastic bags, requiring retailers to hand out paper bags or consumers to bring their own, re-usable ones to the store. That goes into effect in 2020.
The issue is it takes plastic products, often petroleum based, decades to decompose. If they are discarded properly they end up in landfills. If they are not, they can end up in streams and tributaries and eventually the ocean.
Due to tidal and atmospheric conditions, the plastic collects in certain spots. Once such spot is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, and while its existence is inarguable it’s size is impossible to determine. Some estimate it is twice the size of Texas.
It is difficult to measure and impossible to clean up because while plastic doesn’t degrade it does break down into microplastic, or tiny pieces of plastic that fish and other creatures ingest.