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 meeting at LTV. |. photo courtesy Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter

On the heels of the successful passage and implementation this year of a New York City legislation requiring restaurants to not give out single-use plastic cutlery with take-out and delivery orders unless they are requested by customers, the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter is asking East Hampton Village to do the same.

Surfrider volunteers and board members were joined by Girl Scouts and high school and college environmental activists as they asked the East Hampton Village Board Friday morning, Dec. 15, to draft a “Skip the Stuff” legislation.

They were bolstered by data Surfrider gathers through its many beach cleanups, where they’ve found that 67 percent of the items they’ve collected since 2019 are involved in some way with food, including plastic utensils, stirrers, paper napkins and straws, the chapter’s Vice Chair, Christine Capelli, told the Village Board.

“We’re a coastal community and we see this at all of our waterways, all of our beaches,” she said. “It’s a costly problem. Restaurants are popping items into bags. They’re ordering them in bulk and just handing them out, and the customers are now burdened with it. They either stash it in a drawer or toss it and it won’t get recycled. This just builds into the ever-growing pollution crisis we have.”

Ms. Capelli recommended a phased-in approach to allow village restaurants time to adjust to the new requirements. Skip the Stuff laws require that restaurants do not automatically hand out disposable food service items, although they can still be requested by customers.

Village Deputy Mayor Chris Minardi introduced the proposal to the village board, which was receptive to drafting the legislation.

“This country is having a very bad plastic problem. It’s in our waters and it’s causing cancer,” he said. “I would really like to see the village embrace a stronger stance on plastics.”

Lola Garneau, a senior at East Hampton High School representing the school’s Environmental Club, said she volunteered last summer with ReWild Long Island’s East End chapter, focusing on composting and biodiversity. Now, she says, the club is shifting its focus for the fall toward raising awareness about the Skip the Stuff campaign.

“I urge you to help us, as the generation that will have to face the calamity of climate change,” she said. “Small steps in the right direction can have effects beyond what all of us can imagine.”

Gloria Frazee, who has also been working to establish ReWild Long Island’s East End chapter, and on the East Hampton Compost pilot program, said she planned to bring the proposal to East Hampton Town’s Energy and Sustainability Committee, on which she also serves.

“This is such an important proposal,” she said. “This is why people come here, why we are in this community.”

She added that, while sorting through 3,000 pounds of food scraps for the composting program this summer, she found the most frequent contaminant was plastic.

“It’s all connected,” she said. “We have things we can do at home, in restaurants and businesses that really make a difference. It’s all tied together.”

East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw-Keber shared the enthusiasm, as someone who has participated in many beach cleanups and is also a rescue diver.

“I know the debris may be coming from somewhere else, but it is also coming from our residents who may want to picnic on the beach,” she said, after which she read two letters from other residents who support the campaign.

Tracey Early read a presentation from sixth graders at the Amagansett School, who researched the ways in which plastic pollution harms the marine environment.

Tom Cooper, a lifelong East Hampton resident who has worked as a village lifeguard since he was 16, opened The Sweet Spot ice cream shop on Newtown Lane with his wife Maureen earlier this year. He said they worked very hard when they opened their shop to make sure they were ordering compostable single-use products, but those products cost quite a bit more than traditional plastics.

He held up a standard clear plastic cup, which he said would cost his business $4,300 to order in bulk, while a bulk order of a similar cup made of certified compostable material cost $10,600. He added, that after researching the carcinogens found in both paper and plastic straws, he decided to buy straws of a plastic material made from agave.

“I found the plastic straw that breaks down is best for you and I and all my customers,” he said. “I’m here to say, think about what you’re doing before you say you’re banning all plastics.”

East Hampton Girl Scouts support the “Skip the Stuff” campaign. | photo courtesy Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter

Surfer and mother Jennifer Sparrow Wilkes of Water Mill said she’s found a great deal of plastic on the beaches, including both of Barbie’s legs.

“We all need to strive to change this,” she said. “Take the lead in conservation and policy, show your support of local businesses and send a message to other communities that we all have to do better for the future of our oceans.”

She added that a friend of hers who has been a restaurant manager all over the South Fork is willing to help restaurants looking to update their ordering systems.

Surfrider Eastern Long Island Chapter Volunteer Coordinator Jenna Schwerzmann submitted letters of support from 16 people who couldn’t make it to the meeting, and said Surfrider has a foodware guide to help restaurants make the switch.

“We see Skip the Stuff as a win for all — restaurants, customers and the planet,” she said.

Village Board Member Sarah Amaden said she believes education would be key to getting village businesses on board.

“We’re all saying ‘it’s great for your overhead,’ but it really does affect people,” she said. “We need to make sure everyone has the best options… We really have to support our mom and pop shops.”

Mayor Jerry Larsen agreed.

“It sounds like Tom’s business is a step ahead,” he said of Mr. Cooper. “We need to have alternatives for them when we craft this legislation. We need to have a formal public hearing, and hear again from everyone and get to the point where we can pass this. Hopefully it will all happen before the summer. It’s really nice that we have kids involved…. If we teach our kids, they’ll teach the parents.”

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

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