Rethinking Single-Use Plastics in New York City

In an effort to reduce the needless waste produced by foodservice disposables, the New York City Council is considering two bills that could enforce new regulations for single-use foodservice products. 

Single-use disposable items are convenient for a moment’s notice, but their harmful impact on the environment can last years. Plastic items, including “biodegradable plastics”, take decades to break down and do not completely biodegrade. These items break down into smaller pieces, known as “microplastics” (<5mm). Microplastics pose health threats to marine life once they pollute waterways and oceans. While recycling works to responsibly find ways to reuse some plastics, the material is currently being produced at a faster rate than it is being recycled. Only nine percent of plastic produced since 1950 has been properly recycled. According to the Mayor’s Office, about 36 million pounds of single-use plastic is found in the city’s waste stream per year. Enforcing more stringent policies to reduce the output of single-use plastics is necessary to combat the threat they pose to the environment and public health.  

Councilman Van Bramer introduced two bills that could change the way New Yorkers think about single-use plastic. The first bill, Intro 1775-B, would impose new takeout requirements whereby single-use utensils, condiments, and napkins are only available by request. This would reduce the unnecessary amount of single-use items that are often thrown away unused and encourage people to use less single-use items. The second bill, Intro 2185, would create a study to assess the impacts of banning single-use disposables from dine-in services at food service establishments. The bills were created in partnership with the Reusable NYC Coalition and NYC Hospitality Alliance. Discouraging the use of disposables can reduce litter, pollution, carbon emissions, and lower costs for foodservice businesses as well. These bills will promote the use of reusable alternatives and start a conversation amongst New Yorkers to rethink disposables. 

In March, single-use items were deemed the “most sanitary” option by The Plastics Industry Association. This, along with an influx of carry-out orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraged plastic production. This unfortunately undid progress made by many cities and states on prohibiting the use of single-use items, including plastic bags. While the pandemic encouraged many consumers and businesses to gravitate toward disposable plastics, now the future of overcoming plastic pollution will become more difficult. To get back on track, It will take more than conscious consumers to solve this problem. New York City’s government must prioritize strict policies against single-use plastics and work with local restaurants to transition to incorporating these changes. 

NYLCV supports the passage of both bills and other policies that discourage the use of single-use plastics in New York. We will continue to work with local organizations and the City Council to implement such policies.