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Sweeping plastic straw ban would include NYC restaurants, bars, food carts

Councilman Rafael Espinal’s bill would offer a two-year grace period before penalties would be imposed for violations.

Councilman Rafael Espinal pointed to statistics showing 500

Councilman Rafael Espinal pointed to statistics showing 500 million plastic straws are used and tossed out daily in the United States, often ending up in waterways. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

Plastic straws in New York City could be a thing of the past under a bill introduced in the City Council on Wednesday.

Councilman Rafael Espinal is proposing a sweeping ban on single-use plastic straws across the five boroughs that would include restaurants, bars and even food carts.

Espinal pointed to statistics showing 500 million plastic straws are used and tossed out every day in the United States. And more often than not, they end up in waterways.

“It’s no secret that we have a plastic problem,” Espinal said in a statement. “It is estimated that there are 13 million metric tons of plastic clogging our oceans and that 100,000 marine creatures die from plastic entanglement a year.”

Similar legislation to ban the ubiquitous straws has passed in other parts of the country, including Malibu, California, and Seattle.

Espinal’s bill — which also bars establishments from giving customers plastic beverage stirrers — has the backing of several environmental advocacy groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, Oceanic Global, the Sierra Club and Lonely Whale.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the New York Aquarium and other institutions, has launched the “Give a Sip” campaign to support the bill and ask people to ditch the use of single-use plastic straws in their own homes.

“This is one of the greatest threats against wildlife and marine life,” said John Calvelli, executive vice president at the WCS. “By 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish. We need to start raising public awareness of this issue.”

The WCS has already eliminated single-use plastic straws, cold drink lids and single-use, carry-out plastic bags from all of its parks, including the Bronx Zoo.

Both the WCS and Oceanic Global, which created an Oceanic Standard to help establishments adopt environmentally-friendly practices, said they have already received pledges from numerous city bars and restaurants to stop using plastic straws.

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio said his Crafted Hospitality restaurants in the city are starting to eliminate single-use plastic straws. Last week, Danny Meyer announced restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes Blue Smoke and Union Square Café, will also stop using them.

Straws made of paper, bamboo, metal or glass can be swapped out for plastic, advocates said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees that plastic straws have no place in New York City.

“As to plastic straws, their time has come and gone,” de Blasio said Wednesday during a Q&A with reporters in the Bronx. “I believe we should get rid of plastic straws… we don’t need ‘em.”

However, he stopped short of backing the bill. The mayor said he needs to review the legislation

“For a long time, we had paper straws; the world went on just fine,” de Blasio said. “If I had it my way, you would be enjoying your last plastic straws in New York City.”

If the bill is signed into law, there would be a two-year grace period before any bar, restaurant or other site would be hit with penalties for violations.

And there would be exemptions for customers who need to use plastic straws due to medical conditions or a disability, according to Espinal’s office.

“It seems to have a lot of support from my colleagues,” Espinal said. “If the business community is on board, I see very little resistance moving forward. Our intentions are to make sure that we’re not burdening anyone and making sure we’re doing it in the most responsible way.”

With Matthew Chayes

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