Approximately a month after the “Skip the Straw” law went into effect in Ulster County, it has been expanded to include other single-use plastic commodities with a 13-9 vote on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
In an attempt to limit single-use plastic in Ulster County, the county Legislature voted to expand the county’s “Skip the Straw” law to include single-use condiment packets, stirrers and plastic cutlery. Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan signed the “Skip the Straw” law on June 20, which went into effect in September.
The original law did not prohibit the use of plastic straws completely. Instead, it only allowed restaurants to give their patrons straws when they requested straws. This sentiment will carry over to the other single-use plastics now included in the law.
Marie Iris Bloom, executive director of Protecting Our Waters and a member of New Paltz Climate Action Coalition, said that the original “Skip the Straw” law was effective, but inadequate.
“This way we reduce more plastic waste, and educate more businesses and customers away from using single-use disposables at all, simultaneously,” Bloom said. “As long as people are using single-use plastic cutlery without even thinking about it; as long as they are stirring their coffee or drink with a disposable stirrer and tossing it away without a thought, the “Skip the Straw Law” alone has less impact on people’s behavior. It also doesn’t conserve as much.”
The law does not prohibit any establishment from supplying paper, non-plastic or biodegradable alternatives to stirrers and cutlery without customer request.
The law states that this will continue to show that Ulster County is a leader in environmental management because “making certain single-use plastic items available upon request will drastically reduce the plastic put into our environment, helping to preserve our community. Allowing customers to make a choice empowers each patron to choose to help eliminate plastic pollution, and is a small step towards the elimination of single use plastic.”
According to the law, restaurants “shall provide single-use condiment packets to a dine-in customer and or a customer purchasing a take-out food Order upon the customer’s request, however the establishment may display single-use condiment packets allowing for a customer to help oneself without a request.”
The law also requires eateries that provide plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and condiment packets to display a sign in a location visible to customers stating “single-use plastic beverage straw, single-use plastic cutlery, single-use plastic stirrers and/or single-use condiment packets available upon request.”
“The environmental cost of single-use plastics is absolutely unsustainable,” said Ulster County Legislative Chairwoman Tracey Bartels in a press release. “This common-sense legislation asks that people think before they consume. It’s a small step that will make a substantial difference and will continue. Ulster County’s work as environmental stewards.”
While Bloom believes that this law will be effective in reducing single-use plastics in Ulster County, she also believes that more can be done. She believes that adding a 25-cent fee for single-use cups like in Berkeley California or following in the footsteps of the European Union and banning all single-use plastics, from takeout containers to plastic Q-tips would have an even greater impact.