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Suffolk County Moves To Dramatically Cut Plastic Usage

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- On Earth Day, bans on plastic items are in the spotlight in New York, with Long Island leading the way.

Bags, straws, stirrers, Styrofoam, even intentionally releasing balloons have all been targeted by lawmakers to reduce plastic usage.

"Happy Earth Day to everyone," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Monday. "Suffolk County has been leading the state, and in many cases the nation, when it comes to environmental protection."

Suffolk will become the first county in New York state to restrict the use of straws, which will soon be available by request only. Legislation will be signed to prohibit the use of polystyrene, known as Styrofoam, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

"Our wildlife is at risk from these plastic products. Our food supply is at risk from plastics. Plastics don't degrade," said Suffolk County Legislature Majority Leader Kara Hahn. "When a person requests a straw, what they are given should be compostable or biodegradable."

The bans will go into effect next January.

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Lawmakers say public awareness is influencing public policy. Citizens see the disposable plastics issue as a tangible way to help.

Students are studying alternative plant-based straws, stirrers, Styrofoam, bags and balloons.

"That will dissolve in the environment so it won't pollute the oceans and wildlife," 16-year-old Justin Carvana said.

Rather than waiting until next January, dozens of restaurants have already pledged to go plastic and Styrofoam-free, many fueled by public attention in Suffolk to sea animals washing ashore sick or dying from ingesting plastics.

"This is a problem that is facing all of our marine life and as we continue to see more whales and dolphins and seals and sea turtles in our waters we really need to protect them," said Allison DePerte of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society.

Now being considered is a device called a "Seabin" that collects microplastics and oil from the water. It runs on electricity or solar power.

Another idea it to perfect a gigantic boom to help collect floating trash, after the world learned of a sea of plastic pollution washing ashore in the Dominican Republic.

New York's statewide plastic bag ban begins next March.

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