The last straw: Mayor signs executive order limiting single-use plastics

With an eye on global warming and carbon emissions, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Thursday to end the city’s purchase of single-use plastic items.

The city has 120 days from the signing to come up with a plan, and the order is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year.  

The mayor held up straws, plates and cutlery made of alternative materials, such as paper and cornstarch, showing the crowd at the press conference what the replacements for plastic will look like. Speaking at Sims Municipal Recycling in Sunset Park, he labeled the current situation a crisis.

The Department of Sanitation collects 36 million pounds of single-use plastic foodware every year, he said.

“That’s unacceptable and something we can’t afford to do,” de Blasio contended. “Today we say no to plastics, we say no to fossil fuels. We say yes to a better and fairer future.”

The order will rapidly reduce city government’s use of single-use plastic foodware by 95 percent, he said.

“One ounce of plastic creates one ounce of carbon dioxide,” de Blasio said. “Every time we purchase something plastic, we are taking a step in the wrong direction.”

While the executive order applies only to single-use plastic purchased by the city, de Blasio said he hopes that the move will inspire city residents to take action themselves.

Aracely Jimenez, a 22-year-old member of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, also stressed the threat of global warming.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report gives us 12 years to transform our economy and society away from fossil fuels — to lower our CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions to a place where we can have a future where we can live dignified lives,” she said.

New York City is not the first municipality to take this kind of measure. The mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, attended the signing of the order to attest to her own city’s success.

“In our offices, you will only see wooden forks, sporks and paper cups,” said Halsema. “We have also banned plastic cups from all of our commercial festivals in the city. You can imagine it makes a huge difference. We’re all in this together.”

The mayor’s chief climate policy advisor, Daniel Zarrilli, said the directive would work to “Reduce carbon emissions and cut down on the plastic pollution that litters our streets, clogs our waterways and spoils our oceans and marine life.”

The plan is not a catch-all ban on plastic, however. “There are some important exceptions,” de Blasio stressed. “There will still be plasticware for medical or emergency uses and for those who need them, including those with disabilities that have that particular need.”

People being treated for conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and ALS sometimes require plastic cutlery, etc., said Victor Calise, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

“Currently available non-plastic alternatives unfortunately don’t stand up to that use,” he stressed. “They will crack or break.”

De Blasio added that he and his administration are working with the City Council to take the next step and pass legislation to expand the effort to the private sector. He expects that legislation to pass by the end of this year.

“We not only need to stop using plastic foodware as the city government,” he said. “We need to get it out of restaurants and stores. We need to get it out of our lives, and we will work with the City Council to get that done.”

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