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L.A. City ordinance would require restaurants to provide to-go utensils only if requested

A plastic to-go tray filled with chicken and side dishes, with chopsticks
The city of Los Angeles is pursuing an ordinance that requires that food-service businesses provide to-go utensils with food or drink orders only if requested by the customer.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In a bid to curb waste and help both restaurants and the city save money, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to set the wheels in motion for an ordinance that would require restaurants, bars and other food-service operations to provide to-go utensils only if they are requested by the customer.

The vote calls for City Attorney Mike Feuer and the Small Business Commission to draft a new Foodware Accessories Upon Request ordinance, modeling it on the city’s Disposable Plastic Drinking Straws ordinance enacted in 2019.

Restaurants, including ghost kitchens, would no longer provide utensils, napkins, straws and condiments with food or drink orders, unless requested. The motion — put forth by councilmembers Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian and Mike Bonin — also states that third-party delivery companies, such as Postmates, UberEats and Grubhub, would need to program an opt-in feature for food accessories on online and app deliveries.

“It’s not about enforcement. Rather it is a focus on changing behaviors and reversing the normalization of widespread consumption of disposable plastic waste,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who spearheaded the plastic-straws initiative. “People care deeply about our environment and our planet. When consumers take a moment to think if they really need single-use foodware items and contemplate the actions that are so casually destroying our environment, I believe they’ll make an informed decision.”

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O’Farrell hopes the new plastic-utensils ordinance would go into effect by Earth Day, April 22.

Recent California Assembly bill AB-1276, introduced in February by Assembly member Wendy Carrillo, would amend the state’s plastic-straw regulations to require food-service operations to provide other to-go accessories only if requested.

In late January, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced an ordinance to the Board of Supervisors that would require customers to request single-use utensils.

The city’s move, Koretz said, is an “easy, common-sense” initiative that could aid restaurants in saving money during the pandemic, help the city save money on trash cleanups and curb landfill waste and pollution.

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According to a 2020 UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation report, no L.A. County recovery facilities recycle plastic service ware due to food-residue contamination, product size and product material concerns.

“We need to do everything we can to stop the onslaught of plastic flowing into our oceans, and that starts with just making smarter decisions,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “Much like when we reduced the use of the single-use plastic bags, we can just make it clear to businesses large and small that the days of unnecessary plastic utensils are over. It’s in all of our interests. We just need to do it.”


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