Pictured Above: East Hampton Deputy Mayor Chris Minardi and Mayor Jerry Larsen with supporters of the Skip the Stuff campaign outside the Village Board’s Dec. 15, 2023 meeting at LTV. |. photo courtesy Surfrider Foundation

With the April 19 passage of an East Hampton Village “Skip the Stuff” law phasing in a requirement for village restaurants to refrain from automatically giving out disposable cutlery and condiments, the Suffolk County Legislature and East Hampton Town are now also considering a similar proposal.

The Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter has been championing the effort to reduce these types of plastic pollution, which are a major component of the trash collected at local beach cleanups, since last winter.

The Surfrider chapter organized a Dec. 15, 2023 rally outside an East Hampton Village Board meeting, during which many young environmental advocates spoke passionately about their love for local beaches and the dangers of plastic pollution, not only to marine life, but also to the health of all creatures.

Village Board members Chris Minardi and Sara Amaden have been shepherding the project through a March public hearing to the April 19 adoption.

“We’re going to educate restaurants and food establishments not to give out plastics and condiments unless the customer asks for them,” said Mayor Jerry Larsen at a March 15 public hearing on the proposal.

“Customers have to make the effort, it’s not immediately added” to take-out orders, added Mr. Minardi. “This will eliminate stuff being thrown in your bag without asking.”

The law, which is not slated to take effect for 180 days from the date it was adopted, and would apply to any food service establishment, third party food delivery service or third-party courier service. It would enable the village Building Inspector to issue a warning for a first offense, giving the business 60 days to comply. After the warning period, subsequent violations would include a fine ranging from $50 for the first violation to $250 for third and subsequent violations within a period of 12 months.

Food service establishments will not be held liable for failure of online food ordering platforms to comply with the law. Here’s the full text of the law.

Suffolk County Legislators Steve Englebright and Ann Welker have sponsored a similar measure at the county level. The county bill would be enforced by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which already inspects restaurants, and would include fines ranging from $200 to $500

The response at a May 7 public hearing was mostly positive.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment Program Director Jordan Christensen said Suffolk County has been at the forefront of initiatives to ban items ranging from balloons to plastic bags and straws and styrofoam.

“Restaurants spend about $24 billion on these items, and municipalities spend $6 billion cleaning them up,” she said. “The Brookhaven landfill is closing soon. This takes a small problem out of the waste stream. It just makes good sense.”

Angelo Veltri, the founder of an organization called Save Long Island and a gun rights advocate, saw things differently.

“This encroaches on the freedom of businesses and consumers to make their own choices, adding more red tape to them and not doing them any favors,” he said. “The practicality of enforcement is going to be a logistical nightmare.”

He added that he envisions people going to pick up takeout on their lunch break, returning to work to find they have no condiments and plastic cutlery and furiously calling restaurants.

“Do you ever wonder why people are so angry here?” he asked. “It’s this constant harassment and nitpicking mess… We will keep our members informed of your decisions.”

Susan Jansen of Beyond Plastics said she would “love to have a discussion over a beer” with Mr. Veltri, then pointed out that sea creatures ingest a credit card’s worth of microplastics every week, and microplastics have been found in the brains of people with brain tumors.

“Only five percent of packaging is recycled,” she said. “We’re destroying our environment, land and ocean creatures, and wrecking havoc on our health.”

Surfrider Eastern Long Island Chapter Coordinator Jenna Schwerzmann said eight of the 10 top items identified in Surfrider beach cleanups are food and beverage packaging.

“Skip the Stuff is an easy, straightforward, common-sense solution to the pollution crisis,” she said. “It’s also not a total ban. Customers can still request take-out items.”

She added that she could envision that if Suffolk County takes action, New York State could follow suit, as it did in banning single-use plastic bags.

Mr. Englebright, the bill’s sponsor, asked that the hearing be recessed to June 4 while he discussed the proposal with his colleagues.

“I’m not going to try to make the recess go for two years. Two weeks,” he said. “I don’t want this to be an open-ended conversation.”

Ms. Schwerzmann received a warm reception when she presented the Skip the Stuff project to the East Hampton Town Board at their May 14 work session.

East Hampton Town Councilwoman Cate Rogers said that in light of the closure of the Brookhaven Landfill, Skip the Stuff “has now taken on new, significant importance, as all the towns on Long Island are going to seek ways to reduce the cost of removing waste from our towns and transporting it and where we’re going to put it.”

Ms. Rogers said that, while she’s heard some feedback about how the measure would be enforced, she sees the effort as about educating the public as much as making them comply with the law.

“I think part of this will be enforcement of awareness of what we can do to just have better habits,” she said. “It’s an aesthetic idea, an environmental idea and a cost-saving idea.”

Ms. Schwerzmann said she often draws a parallel with 2019 laws limiting the availability of single use plastic bags, which were banned statewide in 2020.

“Before the bag law, not that many people were voluntarily bringing reusable bags to the store,” she said. “We saved 1.1 billion plastic bags, in just one year, when we switched from automatically giving them out to having to request and pay for it.”

“This is so critical,” said Councilman Tom Flight. “Cutting the flow (of trash) at the very start is the key to managing it. I fully support this.”

“I definitely support the concept, but I always want to hear the other side of things,” said Councilman Ian Calder-Piedmont. “Just having to ask for things doesn’t seem like a too onerous thing to do.”

Keep Independent News on the East End

The Beacon is able to provide all of our content online free of charge thanks to support from our readers. Be a vital part of keeping our community informed!

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: