Mayor Announces End to Single Use Plastic Food-ware by City

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order eliminating plastic from city agencies, mostly utensils and other plastics from school cafeterias and city commissaries at a recycling plant in Sunset Park. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

SUNSET PARK – Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order at the Sims Municipal Recycling Center in Sunset Park April 11, that will end the direct New York City purchase of unnecessary single-use plastics in favor of compostable or recyclable alternatives.

The city spends about $1 million on plastic food-ware every year, weighing approximately 1.1 million pounds which includes plastic straws, cutlery, plates, bowls, cups, and trays. The Executive Order, according to the mayor, will reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by approximately 500 tons per year, decrease plastic pollution, and reduce risks to wildlife.

Sanitation workers listen to the mayor. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

The mayor signed the order with city officials, Sanitation workers and other local leaders in attendance at the massive recycling center off Second Avenue. The plant used to be the site of a car storage area before it was completed six years earlier. The plant separates bottles, cans and other metal and plastics, in addition to large piles of paper to be converted back into usable paper products and takes metals and reclaims them for reuse.

City officials estimate this order will reduce the purchase of single-use plastics by city agencies by 95%, and will begin implementation by the end of the year.

“Big Oil has been pushing single-use plastics for too long – and it stops here,” said Mayor de Blasio. “They litter our beaches and parks, jam our recycling machines, and contribute to climate change. Our actions today will help us build a fairer city for all New Yorkers.”

Mayor de Blasio shows biodegradable straw. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

Some single-use plastic items including plastic straws are deemed necessary for some people— including New Yorkers with disabilities—who cannot use currently available alternative products and affirms the ability of all individuals to receive single-use plastic items without question or cost upon request. Under this executive order, a sufficient supply of single-use plastic food-ware will continue to be made available for anyone who requests such items and maintained for other purposes including emergency preparedness and medical uses.

“New York City is doing everything it can to end our reliance on fossil fuels and that means tackling the pervasive problem of single-use plastics,” said Daniel A. Zarrilli, NYC’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor and OneNYC Director. “Today’s Executive Order will end the unnecessary use of single-use plastic food-ware in City government operations by setting smart, inclusive standards that respect the needs of people with disabilities.”

No new contracts will be signed for single-use plastic food-ware, the mayor said, other than to maintain a sufficient supply of certain items to be provided upon request. All city agencies will begin reducing their use of single-use plastic immediately and must also prepare a reduction plan within 120 days. Full implementation of these reduction plans is targeted for the end of the year.

Children form PS75 listen to the mayor talk about recycling and elimination of plastics. Todd Maisel/Bklyner.

The policy is in keeping with other proposals that he has sought. The mayor said he is seeking for the city to divest from petroleum companies that he said “have polluted our environment with only profit in mind.” He said the city will sue petroleum companies for creating pollution and promoting products that add carcinogens to the environment.

Mayor de Blasio also said he is in support of City Council legislation to reduce the single-use plastic food-ware in private establishments and will work with the Council to ensure the legislation includes appropriate accommodations for individuals who cannot use non-plastic alternatives in a similar manner to this executive order.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tours the recycling plant in Sunset Park. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

About 36 million pounds of single-use plastic food-ware is collected from residential waste stream with tens of millions more pounds collected from commercial establishments. Discarded plastics also get discarded as litter and washed into waterways, impacting water quality and harming plant and animal life in New York City’s ecosystems. Reducing single-use plastic use, while simultaneously maintaining a sufficient supply of certain single-use plastic items since some people cannot use alternative products, will lessen the City’s reliance on petroleum-based products in a way that takes the needs of all New Yorkers into account, the mayor said.

Victor Calise, commissioner for the mayor’s office for People with Disabilities said that while it was good to reduce plastic waste, those who require plastic straws and other plastic devices will be ensured the products they need.

Victor Calise, commissioner for the mayor’s office for People with Disabilities says those who need plastic, will get it. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

“The Mayor’s Executive Order will significantly reduce plastic food-ware purchased using City funds, while simultaneously ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities and others who cannot use alternative products are also at the forefront,” he said.

Bushwick Councilman Rafael Espinal greeted the news, saying plastic waste was damaging to the city and planet.

Mayor Bill de Blasio shakes hands with Councilman Rafael Espinal. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

“Plastic pollution is posing an existential threat to our oceans, our health, and our planet,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal. “The scale of this crisis demands urgent, radical government action. Otherwise, we will soon live in a world where there is more plastic in our oceans than fish. I’m excited to have the administration take this significant step forward in making our City the greenest in the nation and support a legislative effort that I’ve been working on in the council.”

Aracely Jimenez, media manager of Sunrise Movement, an organization made up of young people that push environmental agendas including putting the “Green New Deal” on the map and they say “permanently changed the conversation on climate policy in this country.”

She said the mayor’s actions will do a lot to help the environment and government policies. She said some have tried to downplay the impact of young people on the conversation will find that they are losing.

“As a young person in organizing, I’ve felt the push back (from industry) but this country has a long, beautiful history of social movements that can really change the course of politics, of our economy and the way we interact with each other as people,” she said. “We are successful because we have young people involved, and anyone that tells me that we don’t matter, tells me that we are winning – it means they are scared of us because they know that when we call out on injustice, we can create unbelievable social change.”

Children from Public School 75 was on tour of the recycling facility and the children stayed to listen to the mayor.

Children form PS24 listen to the mayor talk about recycling and elimination of plastics. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

Annie Yasmin, a fifth grader said she believed the mayor was doing the right thing for the environment.

“The mayor said it was important to recycle plastics and if we don’t recycle, it can affect animals and plants and it can cause damage to the world,” Yasmin said. “If we don’t protect our community, we won’t have enough plants and animals for us to survive.”

Orelia Dethers, a fifth grader said she agreed with the mayor that the planet was in danger from plastics and other pollution.

“We should take care of our earth and the plastics that are being thrown out into the oceans and on the street, and like the mayor said, if we keep throwing plastics out into the ocean, it will affect the food we need to survive,” Dethers said. “The fish and sea life can eat those things and then it will affect you too.”

Mayor de Blasio greets the children on the tour of the recycling plant. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

The mayor added that the effort would set an example for plastic use around the city and move towards other reductions in pollution and conservation efforts.

“We can get people to move away in their lives from plastics more, recycle more, turn off lights when not in use – I think young people will get people to move policies towards helping that,” the mayor added.

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Todd Maisel
Todd Maisel is an award-winning photographer with more than 35-years, specializing in breaking news. He currently serves as vice president of the New York Press Photographers. He was honored by the National Press Photographers Association and the Uniform Firefighters Association for saving the life of a firefighter he found in debris after the collapse of the World Trade Center, assisting in the rescue of an injured photographer, and for extensive coverage of the attack. Maisel is a graduate of NYU School of Journalism.
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