Last Thursday in Sunset Park, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order, which takes effect immediately, shifting the city away from plastic foodware and toward compostable or recyclable alternatives.
That means 1.1 million pounds of plastic straws, plates, bowls, utensils and cups will be removed from landfills. According to the mayor, the Department of Sanitation collects 36 million pounds of single-use plastics from homes every year.
“It’s just unacceptable,” de Blasio said. “It’s not something we can afford to do anymore.”
The executive order is expected to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by approximately 500 tons per year. According to city officials, it will also decrease plastic pollution and reduce risks to wildlife.
Daniel Zarilli, the city’s chief climate policy advisory and director of OneNYC, said agencies will submit a plan within 120 days on how to phase out unnecessary use of single-use plastics. They have until the end of 2019 to implement those plans.
“The next time you visit a loved one in a city hospital or attend your local community board meeting, you will see new, plant-based compostable foodware,” he said. “That could mean paper straws, that could mean bamboo plates or corn-based cups.”
The move will eliminate 95 percent of plastic foodware in the city. De Blasio said there will still be plastic ware stowed away for medical uses, emergencies and people who need them, including those with disabilities.
Commissioner Victor Calise from the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities said people with multiple sclerosis, high-level spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease or ALS would be among those who would havae access to those plastics.
Calise said many of the current non-plastic alternatives just don’t work for people who need them, often because they crack or break.
“If you need a straw, or you need something plastic, you are just going to ask for it and you will get it,” he said. “That’s just the way it works.”
De Blasio added that plastics are “pushed on us all the time.” He believes most people who don’t need it will be fine without it.
“I just think it’s one of those things, after a couple of years, people are not going to remember what it was like,” he said, “and they will be fine with the new way.”
The fight to end single-use plastics doesn’t stop with government agencies. The mayor said his administration will work with the City Council to pass legislation to expand the effort to the private sector. He intends to pass the bill by the end of the year.
“We need to get plastic foodware out of restaurants and out of stores,” he said. “We need to get it out of our lives.”
Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal, who has championed eliminating plastic straws, sponsors the legislation. He said while banning single-use plastics will affect almost every New Yorker, it’s a small change that will have “a positive ripple effect across the globe.”
“We throw away straws, cups, and forks without a single thought,” he said. “After a single use, we cast away trash that can take centuries to decompose. We no longer have that kind of time.”
The City Council will also take up legislation to mandate green roofs, slash carbon emissions, tackle food waste and protect migrating bird.
“We’re tackling climate change from every angle,” Espinal said.
At the announcement, de Blasio said the change will help in the fight against climate change because 99 percent of plastic products are derived from fossil fuels.
He blamed “Big Oil” and the fossil fuel industry for worsening the climate crisis.
“We have all been put in harm’s way because an industry wanted more and more profit,” he said.
His comments echoed the thoughts of Aracely Jimenez, a Brooklyn native and digital organizer with the Sunrise Movement. Jimenez also pointed to the “fossil fuel billionaires and CEOs” for growing their wealth at the “expense of our planet.”
According to a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world only has until 2040 before the effects of climate change, including droughts, floods and extreme heat, begin to take shape.
At 22 years old, Jimenez said she will be more concerned about the air she’s breathing and the water she’s drinking by the time she turns 34 years old.
“It’s no longer a burden that’s going to be shouldered by some hypothetical future generation,” she said. “This is a crisis that’s being felt by people my age and younger right now.”