Let’s Fight the Plastic Scourge

New York City could soon ban the sale of plastic water bottles in parks, beaches, and public golf courses to cut down on trash. Two cities, San Francisco and Concord, Mass., already have banned them, according to The New York Times, and are promoting the use of refillable bottles by residents and visitors. Given the unsanitary overflow of garbage receptacles at many South Fork beaches during the summer, the time apparently has come for a similar ban here.

On Earth Day weekend, the sheer number of plastic water bottles collected, at Montauk Point in one example, was stunning. Many had been capped and apparently thrown still partially filled into the brush along the paths, while others were carried in on the surf. Beer bottles were in the brush, too,  alcohol-addled jerks being what they are. But what of the thinking of some ostensibly healthy person who drinks half a Poland Spring then heaves it into the brush? It is much the same at other cleanups; volunteers in Greenport in February, for example, picked up more than 660 plastic water bottles.

East Hampton Village officials last week enacted a retail prohibition on foam takeout containers. This is a positive step, even though few village eateries package goods in foam. A more effective measure would be for the village to eliminate the sale of water in plastic bottles at its Chowder Bowl concession at Main Beach. Similarly, East Hampton Town might ban their sale at its beaches and recreational facilities. 

“But what will the people drink?” one might ask. In the cities that have banned plastic water bottles, officials have made fountains and reusable-container filling stations available. Reports are that people adjust quickly. On the other hand, bowing to industry pressure, the Trump administration last year reversed a six-year-old ban on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks, claiming a need to “expand hydration options for recreationalists.” 

In truth, most of us are adaptable; this was underscored in a recent announcement about how quickly habits changed following a Suffolk County prohibition on disposable shopping bags. Montauk School students took on plastic drinking straws not too long ago and got several restaurants and takeout places to pledge to provide straws only upon request or switch to paper ones. In addition, Suffolk legislators are now thinking about limiting plastic cutlery and straws across the county.

If for no other reason than helping keep public spaces clean, a plastic water bottle ban makes sense, particularly since very few, if any, are recycled. East Hampton Town has struggled historically to keep up with the volume of garbage put in its beach trash cans during the summer, adding extra crews to make evening pickups at significant expense. 

Cutting down the number of these bottles would reduce the volume of waste the town has to haul away, and would, in and of itself, be a significant step toward a greener East Hampton. Vendors might consider selling water or other drinks to beachgoers in their own branded, reusable containers to make up for any financial loss. If Washington is going to head in the wrong direction on litter and the energy-wasting manufacturing of plastic, at least local governments, businesses, and consumers can — and should — battle back on their own turf.