One of the best parts of my job is working with young leaders like Josh Hauser, an intern in our office from Bethlehem High School. Josh and his friends have been organizing ways for their school and community to reduce waste – and his passion fit perfectly in our campaign to ban single-use polystyrene containers here in Albany County. Josh helped build support for our efforts, brought friends to a recent rally outside the County Legislature, and even though industry won the first round, Josh is going to be a big part of our work and success on this issue in the future. I am pleased to share this blog he has written on his experience. – Caitlin O’Brien, environmental health associate
As a 17-year-old, I have grown up in a consumer-oriented society that generates a lot of waste, which has placed my health at risk.
As much as thirty-percent of the trash in our landfills is plastic foam (also known as polystyrene and Styrofoam). These products are terrible for our world as they never fully break down, they’re made of carcinogens like benzene, and they are a threat to wildlife. These should have been enough reasons for Albany County legislators to vote in favor of Local Law “S,” a law to expand Albany County’s ban on polystyrene products – but unfortunately, this was not the case.
The vote, which occurred on March 13th, was my first chance to see a project I was working on head through the county legislature. Before going into the vote, a rally was held outside of the legislative building in downtown Albany, with a crowd of supporters braving the brutal Upstate NY winter. We heard from sponsors of the bill and many community supporters who have been active in the fight to end the use of this unnecessary waste.
The ban failed by a vote of 21-16. Despite all the scientific evidence substantiating the dangers posed by polystyrene, and the immense community support – many county legislators just refused to support the ban on these products. Instead of listening to their constituents, our representatives listened to false information fed to them by the chemical industry—the same industry that makes polystyrene products. Many industry lobbyists spoke in front of the legislature, saying a ban would hurt small businesses. However, dozens of small business owners have said just the opposite. In fact, 40 local restaurant owners, including Jennifer Novak of Cider Belly Doughnuts, and Sharon Lastique of Healthy on Lark signed letters supporting a ban.
As disappointed as we may be, advocates for a safer environment are not giving up. This is a public health issue that affects your health, my health, your children’s health, and the world’s health. As concerned citizens we need to unite against pollutants and fight for a greener environment to grow up and live in. Our lives are worth more than that cup your coffee comes in. In this time of political turmoil, everyone needs to be engaged. So be the change that you want to see, and start first with your own community.
Josh Hauser, Bethlehem Central High School