SCHENECTADY — Better start hoarding those plastic straws.
City officials on Monday voted for a resolution that paves the way for a public hearing on a proposed plastic straw ban.
It's expected the hearing will be May 29, the date subject to full City Council approval next week.
Council members Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and John Polimeni announced the legislation last month.
The lawmakers said cities are leading the charge nationwide on banning plastic straws, which they contend not only present an environmental threat, but also drive up municipal recycling costs.
“It’s an opportunity for us to lead on something and not scamper away on our duty of taking care of our environment,” Polimeni said.
Zalewski-Wildzunas participated in the Woodlawn Park neighborhood cleanup last month.
“I should have counted how many straws I picked up along the fence line,” she said. “It’s become quite evident straws don’t recycle — they stay around forever.”
If approved by the City Council, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Restaurants would be required to provide biodegradable straws or forego them entirely.
“I think a lot of restaurant owners are open to this,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.
Establishments may provide “suitable” straws or stirrers for consumers with a disability or medical condition upon request, according to an early draft of the legislation.
Violating the ban would be punishable by fines.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo asked how the city would enforce the law.
“It’s easy enough for code enforcement to do,” Polimeni said.
He expected residents would call City Hill to report violators.
City Council President Ed Kosiur questioned punting enforcement back to the city’s codes department, which officials have already said is grappling with limited resources.
“We can’t keep up with the stuff codes is doing now,” Kosiur said.
He indicated a piecemeal approach is not optimal.
“I really think it should be a state or county issue,” he said.
An outstanding bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, would require restaurants only provide single-use plastic straws to customers when explicitly requested or when selected by the consumer from a self-service dispenser.
City Council members directed Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to research the legality of a local law.
Councilman Vince Riggi said he isn’t opposed to banning straws, but any effort needed to be paired with broader enforcement of anti-littering laws that carry financial penalties.
Plastic straws constitute just a small part of trash piling up along city roads, he said.
“I’d like to see it carried out in a more comprehensive way,” Riggi said. “We have to start enforcing our litter law in this city. I’d like to see a more comprehensive plan for litter than just straws.”
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 recyclable.
Polimeni acknowledged any local law will require enforcement, and more coordination may be possible in the future, including cracking down on Styrofoam.
Kosiur on Monday said he has fielded complaints from constituents regarding delivery of The Daily Gazette’s weekly product.
He contends copies of “Your Niskayuna” are piling up outdoors and asked Falotico to research the city’s options for dealing with the complaints.
Falotico said he’d return an option within two weeks. But courts have typically been skeptical to infringe on free speech, he said.
“I can look into it, but it’s a real fine line,” Falotico said.
“Your Niskayuna” is a weekly news product that carries several pre-print inserts from local businesses.
The shift to carrier delivery began approximately four weeks ago and was driven by the “inability to receive timely delivery on a consistent basis from the United States Postal Service as well as increasing costs of delivery,” said Brian Zarelli, vice president of audience development at The Daily Gazette.
Zarelli acknowledged the shift in delivery method has become a matter of contention with some residents.
“We are working hard each week to make adjustments and get better and more efficient at distribution,” he said.
The Daily Gazette has a team of people working to quickly address concerns regarding any unwanted papers as well as ensuring the product is being delivered as close to households as possible to prevent debris, he said.
The company will cease delivery to any household that does not wish to receive the publication, and activate delivery to those who do but are not receiving it, said Zarelli.
Both the bags and product are recyclable, he noted.
“We receive excellent feedback on the product itself and the store fliers contained within and wish to continue to serve the area with this valuable news product,” Zarelli said.
Polimeni said he spoke with Zarelli and John DeAugustine, publisher and president of The Daily Gazette, about the concerns.
“Mr. DeAugustine did say he was on top of this and will address it,” Polimeni said.
Recent legal precedents suggest the free delivery of weekly newspapers are protected by the U.S. Constitution.
In a case that drew statewide attention last year, Glens Falls Post-Star publisher Robert Forcey was ticketed for littering over delivery of weekly newspapers to Queensbury homes after several residents filed charges with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller ruled the newspaper’s weekly publication is protected by the First Amendment and cannot legally be considered “refuse, trash or litter,” the newspaper reported.
He dismissed all seven charges last May.