New York City is banning single-use plastics, including plastic straws, cutlery, plates, bowls, cups and trays from city agencies, a move welcomed by Bushwick Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who has introduced multiple bills to make the city greener and more sustainable.
"Plastic pollution is posing an existential threat to our oceans, our health, and our planet," said Espinal who represents the 37th District including Bushwick, East New York, Brownsville, Crown Heights, Cypress Hills. "We have to ask ourselves: 'Are we going to prioritize plastics or our planet?' The scale of this crisis demands urgent, radical government action."
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Thursday that will require city agencies to stop purchasing single-use plastics in favor of compostable or recyclable alternatives. The city will allow some exceptions for New Yorkers who cannot use alternative products for medical reasons. Officials estimate the move will reduce the usage of single-use plastic by 95 percents, and the city's carbon emissions by approximately 500 tons per year.
Reducing single-use plastic use will also lessen the city's reliance on petroleum-based products, de Blasio said.
"Big Oil has been pushing single-use plastics for too long, and it stops here," said de Blasio. "They litter our beaches and parks, jam our recycling machines and contribute to climate change. Plastic waste is poisoning our Earth — and cities have no choice but to lead the fight against climate change."
Approximately 36 million pounds of single-use plastic foodware is collected from the city's residential waste stream each year. Tens of millions more pounds are collected from commercial establishments. Discarded plastics get washed into waterways, impacting water quality and harming plant and animal life in the ecosystems.
"The plastics in our oceans leach harmful chemicals and decimates marine life," said Espinal. "Plastic pollution also affects our food and water sources. According to a 2017 report of tap water samples, the United States had a plastic fiber contamination rate of 94 percent, the highest rate among all countries from which samples were collected. Microplastics have also been discovered in shellfish and other marine animals consumed by humans."
With the enactment of the executive order city agencies will begin reducing their usage of these items immediately while preparing a reduction plan within four months, with the goal to fully transition by the end of the year.
De Blasio also announced his support for pending City Council legislation to reduce the single-use plastic foodware in private establishments. It's a crucial first step, according to Espinal who introduced a bill in February that would end single-use plastics across the city, and who sponsored first legislation to ban plastic straws last summer. But first, he added, City Council will move to pass legislation that mandates green roofs on new buildings in NYC, among others.
"Next week we're going to be passing legislation in the City Council that mandated green roofs, and slashes our carbon emissions," said Espinal. "We have bills that reduce food waste and protect bird migrations because we are tackling climate change from every angle."