Schenectady straw ban rejected

Opposing lawmakers cite enforcement concerns

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady’s proposed ban on plastic straws and drink-stirrers is dead after failing to make it out of committee. 

Opposing lawmakers cited enforcement concerns and the need for broader legislation by the county or state Legislature as key reasons.  

“I just believe we have too many issues in front of us right now,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur, who called it “another piece of legislation quite honestly the city wouldn’t be able to enforce.”

Council members tasked bill co-sponsor Councilman John Polimeni last month with getting more input from the city’s food and beverage industry and pitching members of the Schenectady County Legislature on the concept.

Polimeni said a Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation online survey revealed 70 percent of participants were in favor of doing away with straws. 

And informal conversations with city-based members of the county Legislature were supportive, he said. 

But that wasn’t enough to pass the bill, first proposed by Polimeni and Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas on Earth Day in April, out of committee. 

The Government Operations Committee did, however, approve resolutions asking the county and state to address the issue.

Polimeni and Zalewski-Wildzunas countered localities can play an active role in combating environmental degradation by crafting agendas that will ultimately drive support for state and county laws.

“I know we’re just a small city, but I know we can make an impact,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.

The ban would have taken effect Jan. 1 and would have been enforced by the city’s Code Department. 

Restaurants would be required to provide biodegradable paper straws or forego them entirely. Nursing homes and businesses would have still be able to provide “suitable” straws or stirrers for consumers with a disability or medical condition upon request.

Several restaurateurs said eco-friendly straw or bamboo units are more expensive. 

Kosiur also said the law was unclear in how it was written, possibly allowing individual straw users to be dinged for usage. 

A previous public hearing drew only three people to deliver comments.. 

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said pro-ban businesses can still phase out the use of plastic straws.

“They’ve already expressed the interest and willingness to do it,” she said.

As an emerging field of scientific research reveals the ocean is increasingly being choked with plastic, the movement to ban plastic straws has gained momentum. California last year approved a partial ban, while Seattle has prohibited the use of all plastic utensils at its businesses.

Private companies, too, are also climbing on board: Starbucks has announced it will ban plastic straws by 2020 and all McDonald’s restaurants located in the United Kingdom will replace them with paper models.

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