Espinal Stirs Legislation, Fights To The Final Plastic Straw

Advocates for banning plastic straws and stirrers in New York City rallied Thursday in City Hall Park to show their support for Intro No. 936 ahead of a public hearing on the legislation.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr.

City Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. (D-Bushwick, East New York) proposed the measure back in May which would ban all non-biodegradable plastic straws and stirrers in New York City food service establishments. It is part of a nationwide movement to address the environmental impact of plastic, and follows similar bans in Seattle, Malibu, and Miami Beach. If passed, New York City would be the largest city to institute a ban of this type.

Several advocates for the bill spoke at the rally Thursday.

Adrian Grenier, who stars as Vincent Chase in the TV series “Entourage” and co-founded Lonely Whale, an environmental advocacy group, expressed his support for the legislation.

“As a native New Yorker and campaigner for a healthy ocean, it has always been my hope that New York would lead the way and set the global, sustainable standard,” Grenier said. “I’m excited to see my dream come true with the bill presented by Council Member Espinal Jr.”

“A lot of times we end up bleeding into abstraction because the problems are so big, so we try to tackle the whole problem all at once. This, I think, is a way for everybody to get involved. It’s something we all encounter every single day,” the star actor added.

“Entourage” star Adrian Grenier, co-founded Lonely Whale, an environmental advocacy group, and is supporting the legislation. Photo by Benjamin Robson. 

Even if put in the recycling bin, plastic straws are rarely recycled because they slip through sorting machines due to their size and shape, according to John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Director of WCS’s Give a Sip Campaign.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that recycling alone cannot help us. We have to reduce the consumer products themselves, because it’s the only way to protect our environment and our sea life,” Espinal said at the rally.

The bill has received support from several groups within the city, including business owners.

Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said that in a survey of 400 businesses conducted by his organization, 85 percent supported the ban. “While our city’s over-regulated, they support sensible legislation that protects our environment,” he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also said he would support the bill when it was announced, and 11 council members have since signed on.

At the rally Espinal expressed confidence the legislation would get the 14 remaining votes it needs to pass.  “We’re going to spend the whole summer getting colleagues on board, and, again, I feel there’s a lot of people who are on board already who haven’t signed on yet – it’s just a matter of identifying them and getting them,” he said.

Espinal said he thought the Consumer Affairs Hearing would demonstrate the positive effects of the legislation, and help get more council members on board.

At the hearing Thursday, when asked by City Council Member Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) about the cost of bio-degradable alternatives, Rigie said that he expects costs for businesses to increase in the short-term, but to eventually go back down as the supply of eco-friendly straws, such as paper and aluminum straws, increases.

Rigie added that, though it supports the bill, the NYC Hospitality Alliance called for an amendment allowing for the extension of the bill’s two-year grace period – during which the city will not issue penalties for violating the new rule – if the supply of alternative straws does not increase as expected.

Following the hearing, Espinal said the legislation will come before the full council for a vote as soon as it gains enough support. 

More from Around New York