Chicago City Council passes limits on plastic utensils for restaurant carryout and delivery; critics say they don’t go far enough

·2 min read

Chicago diners will soon be on the hook to remember to order forks along with their appetizers.

Under an ordinance the City Council passed Tuesday, people who want plastic utensils with their carryout and delivery meals from local restaurants will need to request them. The measure was advanced by the City Council Environmental Protection Committee Monday.

Restaurants will be required to either provide a self-service station for diners to pick up utensils, napkins, toothpicks, drink trays and other disposables themselves, or will have to ask people if they want them.

But straws, drink lids, Styrofoam takeout containers and cup sleeves for coffee would be exempted from the new rules, as would orders picked up at drive-thrus.

Supporters touted the change as an important way to lower the amount of plastic that ends up in the trash, while sparing restaurants struggling during the pandemic from having to immediately meet stricter rules like those in some other cities that would completely outlaw many plastic products.

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“I firmly believe this ordinance is a step in the right direction to reduce waste, to save businesses money and promote good sustainable behavior,” said Northwest Side Ald. Samantha Nugent, 39th, said during committee discussion. “Plastic waste is at an all-time high, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When you order takeout delivery, it seems the bag is always half full of utensils, extra napkins and condiments.”

But local environmentalist Jordan Parker derided the proposal as not going nearly far enough to limit plastic in restaurants.

“This ordinance is masquerading as a pro-environment step in the right direction, but in actuality, it is pro-industry, pro-fossil fuel and pro-plastic green washing,” Parker said during testimony at the meeting. “If you pass this ordinance out of committee today, it will block critical and necessary legislation from being implemented at a later date, and set dangerous precedent.”

Northwest Side Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, was among 10 aldermen who voted against the measure Tuesday and noted the opposition from environmental groups.

Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, said the change “is a good step forward, because it is a step forward.” He urged colleagues not to get hung up on fighting against it because it doesn’t do enough, saying aldermen can come back to do more later.

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