SCHENECTADY — Local lovers of Slurpees, milkshakes and carbonated beverages may find their worlds altered next year.
City officials announced on Monday they will introduce legislation to ban plastic straws.
“We look forward to Schenectady not only being a smart city, but also an environmentally conscious one,” said Councilwomanr Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with Councilman John Polimeni.
Restaurants would be required to provide biodegradable straws or forego them entirely.
The proposal comes amid a broader shift in curbing plastic usage, Polimeni said, citing Starbucks’ decision to phase out plastic straws by 2020 and numerous airlines culling their distribution.
The lawmakers cited not only the environmental impact, but also financial considerations.
While the city once generated revenue through its recycling program, processing costs have increased to roughly $60 per ton after China scaled back accepting foreign recyclables in its efforts to curb pollution, Polimeni said.
The city handles roughly 26,000 tons of municipal solid waste annually, said Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond, as well as 2,500 tons of recyclables, excluding the village of Scotia.
The law would also apply to beverage stirrers.
Lawmakers will introduce the legislation in May with a public hearing to follow.
“I’m sure we’ll get the support from the rest of [City] Council,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.
If approved by the City Council, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Establishments may provide “suitable” straws or stirrers for consumers with a disability or medical condition upon request, according to an early draft of the proposed legislation.
Bucking the ban would be a violation-level offense punishable by fines.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he is supportive of the measure, calling it "a step in the right direction."
Councilman Vince Riggi did not attend the press conference, but said he wasn't opposed to a ban.
The proposed legislation should be paired with broader anti-littering initiatives that carry a financial penalty, he said.
“There’s a lot more than plastic straws littering our landscape," Riggi said. “I think we have to do a little better enforcement of our litter law."
Several area restaurant owners spoke in favor of the ban at a press conference on Monday, including Tim Taney, owner of Slidin' Dirty.
The downtown hamburger restaurant began using paper straws about a year ago, Taney said, which are three times more expensive than their plastic counterparts.
He said a ban must be paired with broader shifts in public attitudes toward plastic consumption and environmental sustainability.
“It starts with all of us, but it’s nice to see it in Schenectady,” Taney said.
Ambition Coffee & Eatery owner Mark Remsen spoke of the environmental impacts of plastic to coral reefs in Florida.
“We need to fix our choices and where we put our garbage,” Remsen said.
The move comes weeks after New York state banned the use of single-use plastic bags effective March 1, 2020, a measure advocates say will curb bag litter and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production and disposal.
"You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage," Cuomo said in a statement on Monday. "Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we're putting an end to this blight on our environment."
Counties and cities have the option to impose a 5 cent fee on paper bags, a portion of which would be used to fund disposable bag distribution programs through the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said the city hasn’t yet formally discussed the legislation, citing a desire to learn more information about the new law.
Other municipalities in New York state are weighing a ban on plastic straws, including Suffolk County, which voted earlier this month to ban polystyrene and plastic straws, and the city of Plattsburgh, which commissioned a survey last summer to study the issue.
Also, University at Albany will begin phasing out plastic straws next semester.