ALBANY — In six months, if you want a plastic fork in Albany County you will have to ask for it, as per a law approved by the Albany County Legislature. And nine months from now, as per the same legislation, businesses will not be allowed to hand out plastic straws or beverage stirrers.
After a brief debate legislators passed bill, first introduced in May, by a vote of 29-7. The legislation was modified to move the ban on plastic straws back three months to match when a ban on straws in Albany County departments earlier initiated by executive order by County Executive Dan McCoy.
“We don’t necessarily need a straw for a great percentage of things you get at the drive through. There are some instances you need a straw but for the most part we can live our lives without ever touching a straw,” said Legislator Joanne Cunningham, D-Delmar, a lead sponsor of the bill. “It’s not a luxury item, but we are so used to the plastic straw culture that makes it easy for us to grab a straw and that is why we have such a plastic pollution problem that is littering our waterways and our wildlife and that is why we have to get away from this.”
She referred to the use of plastic in our culture as an “epidemic” and an “addiction.”
“Let’s break our addiction. Let’s be bold. We have to start doing stuff that makes us a little uncomfortable and skipping the straw is not that big of a deal in our everyday life,” she said. “We have a planet in trouble. We have plastic pollution we can’t recycle our way out of and we can’t burn our way out of. We have to change our behavior.”
Detractors were in favor of requiring consumers to ask for plastic cutlery but were wary of unilaterally banning plastic straws.
“The issue of plastics is wide-ranging,” said Legislator Todd Drake, R-Colonie. “You can still serve this up in a plastic cup and if the straw is in the plastic cup and you throw the whole thing in the river the straw is not going to break the camel’s back. If you throw it in the trash or a recycle bin like we are supposed to as good citizens we are doing the right thing and that is the consumer behavior we should try to push and help people to do.”
He proposed a “common sense” amendment to the legislation which would allow the implementation be phased in over a period of time. It was voted down 27-9.
Legislator Paul Burgdorf, R-Colonie, said he favors requiring consumers to ask for cutlery but would like to see more flexibility in the ban on plastic straws and stirrers.
“I am the kind of person who goes through a drive through and you get a square plastic straw with a spoon on the end. I would have hoped for more flexibility for some products that just don’t work any other way,” he said. I would have voted yes for the cutlery portion. The prohibition on straws goes too far and I am not going to support this.”
Bill Reinhardt, D-Slingerlands, produced a re-useable metal straw that come with a kit including cleaning utensils.
“There are many other options. We don’t need plastic so let’s move on,” he said.
Legislator Gil Ethier, D-Cohoes, said he is not opposed to the idea of banning plastic but feels it should be addressed at the state level rather than putting the onus just on Albany County businesses.
Legislator Gary Domalewicz, D-Albany, said many companies, like McDonalds, are already taking it upon themselves to move away from plastic. Others said it will help businesses in that it will have to spend less on items automatically given out and then wasted if the consumer doesn’t want or need plastic cutlery.
“Plastic is an environmental nuisance and it is or responsibility to do something about that. It doesn’t seem to me eliminating plastic straws is onerous,” said Legislator Mark Grimm, R-Guilderland. “I don’t think people are going to leave Albany county because of the straws they have access to. We are also doing the smart thing in offering the option on plastic cutlery. It’s a sensible thing. If they want it they can use it. I’m a sensible environmentalist and I’m going to vote yes.”
There are some exceptions to the straw ban including pre-packaged drinks sold at commercial establishments, use of plastic straws by medical or dental facilities and use of plastic straws by those with a disability or other physical impairment. As for plastic cutlery, they will still be available if consumers want to pick them up on their own.
Enforcement shall fall to the Albany County Health Department. A first offense will get a written warning, the second will earn a $100 penalty and the third and subsequent offense will earn a $250 fine.