Ulster County Legislators Consider Adding Other Plastics To Request-Only Law

Aug 17, 2019

Ulster County legislators are considering a measure to include additional single-use plastic items in a law pertaining to plastic straws. The county executive supports the proposed law while the legislature’s minority leader has concerns.

The proposal is to include plastic stirrers, plastic cutlery and condiment packets in a local law that requires restaurants and fast food places to provide single-use plastic straws upon request only. Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan likes the idea of adding items to the “Skip the Straw” law.

“So, number one, I think the rollout of both the plastic bag ban and the Skip the Straw legislation has been a huge success. There was a little bit of people getting used to a new change, which we knew would come,” Ryan says. “But, just anecdotally, I was at the grocery store Sunday night and I saw probably 80 percent with their own reusable bags, which made me happy and it shows that we’re capable of changing and protecting our planet with small tweaks to our daily lives. So I’m supportive of the concept of continuing to broaden other major pollutants and sources of plastics that we know are terrible for the environment.”

The plastic bag ban went into effect July 15. Skip the Straw is slated to take effect October 3, according to the proposed law adding the three single-use plastics. Ulster County Legislature Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk:

“We should let the first law go into effect before we start amending it,” Ronk says. “I think that if it was the intention of the sponsors to have all of these things included — the plastic cutlery, the stirrers, the condiment packets — if they wanted them to be in the law, they should have been in the law and passed it two months ago rather than amending it before it even goes into effect, before we even see how it’s going to work out.”

Liz Moran is environmental policy director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“This is a way to wean the population off of plastics, which we have to do,” says Moran. “And these small items are great ways to start that.”

She says Ulster County is ahead of the curve in addressing single-use plastics. Moran says the proposed law would help reduce plastic pollution while aiding the recycling stream.

“We are currently in the midst of a plastic pollution crisis. Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste is ending up in the ocean every single year,” Moran says. “And we also are in the midst of a recycling crisis. Many people try to recycle as much as they can but, unfortunately, the market is haywire, and a lot of plastic actually isn’t recyclable anyway.”

Legislator Ronk says he wants consumers to decide for themselves, and remove any burden from food businesses by leaving the items on the counter. So he wants the following to end up in the final version.

“Passive distribution. So at Burger King or a Wendy’s or Stewart’s Shops is what I use, it’s where I get my morning coffee, great New York state company, and Stewart’s Shops has condiment packets and straws and stirrers and spoons out,” Ronk says. “And, right now, they have wooden and plastic stirrers out for the coffee, and you can choose which one you want to use. I choose to use the wood because they’re better for the environment.”

Democratic Legislators Laura Petit and Joseph Maloney are sponsors of the proposed law to add the three categories of single-use plastics to the Skip the Straw law. County Executive Ryan, who took office in June, was interested to hear feedback, especially from small businesses, at a public meeting August 13.

“That’s the area that I most want to hear…  If there are concerns we want to make sure we proactively address those, but conceptually I fully am supportive, and it’s really aligned with my concept of a Green New Deal here in Ulster County,” says Ryan.

However, there were no public comments during the hearing. The proposed law should be under consideration for adoption in September.