Photo: Phoebe Sheehan, Albany Times Union
“There wasn’t huge opposition to it,” sophomore Grace McGrath said of the push to ban the straws, which was recently approved by the student government or Student Assembly as well as campus officials.
“There won’t be plastic straws available,” added Mary Ellen Mallia, director of UAlbany’s Office for Sustainability. The school’s University Auxiliary Services organization, which oversees such efforts, is expected to finalize the ban on May 10.
Mallia said some kinds of straws will be available on request, but they won't be readily available with utensils and condiments. One possibility will be bamboo straws.
Efforts to ban plastic straws are gaining momentum locally and around the state. The Bethlehem school district is taking a similar action and Schenectady will soon be consider a ban on single-use plastic straws and plastic beverage stirrer.
The ban comes as New York has joined a growing list of states that is banning single use plastic bags, with activists like McGrath now turning their attention toward other plastic items like straws.
The Bethlehem school district, for instance, will ban plastic straws starting April 29. The Starpoint district in Lockport has also enacted a ban. And Syracuse University and Pace University law school have banned plastic straws, opting instead for paper.
“A growing number of cities and businesses are doing away with straws. As a community of more than 5,000 students and staff, we can make a significant impact right here,” Bethlehem Food Service Director Allissa Eiser said in a recent notice about the change.
Bans are also being considered in the city of Plattsburgh and Ulster County. On Long Island, Suffolk County recently enacted a plastic straw ban in restaurants and similar establishments as has the town of Southampton.
Discussion of bans has actually been bubbling along for several years as people become more concerned about the amounts of solid waste, and the use of petroleum-based products like plastic straws.
Awareness of the issue jumped after a 2015 YouTube video of a straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nose went viral, noted Mellia. Much of the concern about straws and other small single-use plastic items centers on how they can eventually end up in the world’s oceans where they are ingested by marine life.
Images of trash-strewn beaches, where acres of plastic waste wash ashore, have also become a YouTube staple.
The bans aren’t 100 percent. People with disabilities, who may need a plastic straw to ingest liquids, will still be able to request them at UAlbany and most other places with bans.
McGrath, who has a set of reusable utensils for dining out, has also promoted her ban with state lawmakers and the Cuomo administration but that process, she has learned, moves far slower than on campus government.
Alternatives are already popping up, including bamboo and folding, cleanable metal straws such as those from FinalStraw, which urges buyers to “suck responsibly” with their products.
In Schenectady, City Council members Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and John Polimeni want to do away with plastic straws and stirrers.
Besides being more environmentally-friendly, Polimeni said a ban will cut down on higher recycling costs. Schenectady's ban will also feature exceptions for people with disabilities or medical conditions.
The proposal will be introduced at the City Council's May 6 meeting, said Polimeni.
"It's good for the environment, it's good for the city, it will help decrease litter, there's a number of positives and most individuals don't need to use a straw," he said.
If the proposal passes, the Schenectady ban would take effect Jan. 1, to allow businesses a chance to use up their remaining supply.
Schenectady ban will carry fines that start at $100 and rise with each subsequent infraction.
In September, fast food giant McDonald's will replace plastic straws with paper ones in all its restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Seattle and Miami Beach have passed bans on plastic straws. The city of Malibu, Calif., is banning plastic cutlery and straws.
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