By ANNA HELHOSKI
Legislative Gazette Staff Writer
Mon, May 11, 2009
A reality television celebrity accompanied three teenage girls to Albany last Tuesday to meet with legislators and advocate for a bill that would prohibit the use of plastic foam in food service.
Jill Zarin of the Bravo network's "The Real Housewives of New York City," along with her daughter Allyson Shapiro and two other New York high school girls, is advocating for a bill (S.747-a/A.706-a) that would enact the Food Service Waste Reduction Act.
"The bill is really great because one cup of [plastic foam] takes 500 years to biodegrade and 25 million cups are thrown away a year by Americans. The more we can do [to prevent plastic foam waste] will make so much of an impact for us," said Shapiro, a junior at the Birch Wathen Lenox School.
Zarin and the girls met with Sens. Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington, and Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, visiting as representatives from the teen advisory board for Teens Turning Green, a national organization that investigates toxic exposures in schools and communities and advocates for change in policy practices.
Of the bills, introduced in January and now amended and recommitted to both houses, Environmental Conservation committees in March, Johnson said, "The goal here is trying to reduce the amount the food service waste that we see in our schools all across New York state. We're trying to offer an alternative to schools to push them to go into [using] biodegradable or recyclable products."
The legislation includes provisions that would prohibit retail and municipal food vendors or providers from selling or providing food in plastic foam containers. Additionally municipal departments, such as schools, could not acquire or use plastic foam food service ware.
All retail food vendors and municipal food providers would need to find and use a suitable and affordable recyclable or biodegradable alternative. Affordable, according to the bill, means purchasable for no more than 15 percent more than the purchase cost of the plastic foam products.
"The bill speaks to a larger goal that we have as teens in the campaign, which is we want to reach out to schools and tell them that they're not alone in their desire to go greener and there are resources available to them that they can use and I think the bill really accomplishes that [goal] if passed because it will give people the opportunity to use legislation to benefit schools and children in New York state," said Mattie Kahn, a sophomore at Ramaz School in Manhattan.
"I think it's really great for young people to come and get involved in what happens here in the legislative process and the environment is incredibly important to our conference, but really, it's the world you're going to live in so it's great that you're investing so much time and effort into saving the planet," said Duane, a co-sponsor of the bill. "We've done an awful lot that's not been good for the planet and I'm sorry to leave you with this mess."
Alex Peaslee, a sophomore at Dalton School in Manhattan, said one of the organization's goals is advocating for a greener lifestyle in everyday life. Of the teens' environmental awareness and contribution to the lobbying process, Zarin said, "It's so important that these girls come here and voice their opinions. Hopefully people will see that."
The young women also met with the bill's main sponsors Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, both Democrats from Manhattan.