After polystyrene, plastic straws, stirrers, and balloons up next

Town Aims To Reduce Plastic In Ocean

Sylvia Overby, at her office at Town Hall, hopes to eliminate the flow of plastic straws into ocean waters around East Hampton with future legislation. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

With most uses of polystyrene in the food service industry in East Hampton likely soon to be banned, the East Hampton Town Board is turning its attention to food service items that all too frequently end up in the ocean, and in our food chain: plastic straws and stirrers, and possibly even plastic cup tops.

According to town board member Sylvia Overby, the legislation would be similar to that currently being considered by Southampton Town, which, if approved, would allow businesses to hand out straws and stirrers only upon customer request, and those straws and stirrers would have to consist of biodegradable material.

After that, Overby said, it may well be time to ban the practice of releasing balloons into the sky. “We do not want to traumatize any children,” she said jokingly last week. However, the free release of balloons into the air at events such as weddings, birthday parties, graduations, and memorials, is no laughing matter, Overby said. The balloons themselves, along with the plastic clips used to close them, end up in the ocean, harming fish and birds, and, all too often, ending up in our food chain.

Overby cited a presentation made by East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw Keber to the town’s Recycling and Littering Committee, to which she is the town board’s liaison. “She has been working on this for quite a while,” Overby said.

The balloons, Overby said, after being released, eventually end up in the ocean, where, to aquatic animals, they can look like a food source, such as jellyfish. “They can look like a lot of other things that birds eat,” Overby said. And the ribbons tied to the balloons get tangled with birds. According to Overby, the committee “did a cleanup on the beach after Thanksgiving, and in a very short time, they had come up with 33 balloons.” She said that Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc is of like mind on the issue.

The focus of the legislation would not be on the balloons themselves, Overby said, but rather, the intentional release of them into the atmosphere. If a child lets go of a balloon accidentally, enforcement officers will not be tracking them down. But it is the intentional release of balloons, particularly when it involves multiple balloons, that the town is hoping to stop.

Overby suggests some alternatives to balloons. Soap bubbles being released into the air are one possibility. “Children like bubbles,” she said. “Bubbles are fun.”