Continuing its efforts to protect the environment, the Sea Cliff village board has approved legislation banning the use of single-use food packaging and plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cutlery in local eateries. The law passed unanimously on Nov. 13, making Sea Cliff the first village in Nassau County to enact such an ordinance.
Earlier this year, the village’s Environmental Conservation Commission, chaired by Trustee Dina Epstein, worked with All Our Energy, a nonprofit environmental group, to host several screenings of the movie “Bag It” and encourage awareness of a proposed law to regulate the use of plastic carryout bags. Trustees approved the legislation on March 12.
Epstein, explaining the impetus for the latest law, said that the film highlighted the deleterious effects of single-use-plastic pollution. “These items are inundating the planet and making their way into our oceans,” she said. “Recently there’s been a push for metal straws in the news and on social media. People are in support of getting rid of this single-use plastic.”
The law, which will take effect Jan. 1, states, “No food service establishment shall sell, offer or distribute . . . single-use food packaging that consists of expanded polystyrene,” or EPS, commonly referred to as styrofoam. The law exempts disabled people and emergency-response agencies operating in the village.
EPS, a petroleum-based plastic, is used in a variety of food containers and is slow to break down. Most of the plastic that ends up in landfills will still be there 500 years after it is thrown away, and plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery, which are made from a substance called polypropylene, synthesized from petroleum and natural gas, do not biodegrade in marine environments.
“For an item that has a lifespan of 10 minutes, it stays on the planet for hundreds of years,” Epstein said.
While the legislation includes penalties for establishments that violate its provisions, Epstein said that it is intended to help, not harm, local business. “We’re not looking to be punitive,” she said. “It’s really an educational thing. We’re looking to change habits.”
Epstein worked with fellow Trustee Henriette Rohl on the legislation. Rohl spoke with local business owners to gather their input while the law was being drafted. “The general feedback was very positive,” she said, “and many restaurants were taking environmental initiatives on their own.”
Rob Mansfield, of Sea Cliff, who owns Grassroots, an eatery in Glen Head, began providing biodegradable food ware at his business eight months ago. After viewing “Bag It” at one of the village’s screenings, Mansfield said, he had “an epiphany.”
“We’re gluttons who keep using and not thinking about the Earth at all,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been slowly but surely getting rid of all my plastic.”
Instead of plasticware, Grassroots uses cutlery made from corn starch. Mansfield has also switched from using single-use food packaging to glass mason jars and biodegradable to-go containers, which can be reused and recycled. He said that while the implementation of these alternatives is more costly, plastic pollution “is something that we can’t afford to ignore.”
“This kind of change has to be done gradually,” Mansfield added, “but as a small business owner, I made this decision because I have to, not because anyone told me. In a town where there’s so much love in everything, we should love our planet as well.”