LA moves to stop restaurants from automatically giving plastic utensils to reduce plastic waste

Plastic utensils. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

In an effort to alleviate some financial burdens on Los Angeles restaurants and reduce plastic waste, the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday requested City Attorney Mike Feuer to draft an ordinance that would make plastic utensils, napkins and salt packets only available when requested by restaurant customers.

The motion, which passed unanimously, was introduced by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian.

"Today's motion is an easy, common sense requirement that we hope will help restaurants save money, help the city save money from unnecessary trash cleanups in our neighborhoods and help stop piling unused stuff in our already teeming landfills," Koretz said before Wednesday's vote.

Koretz noted that California restaurants that have already switched to by-request utensils have saved between $3,000 and $21,000 per year.

"Knowing that fossil fuels go into producing each fork and knife and that trees are used to produce napkins makes me crazy when I'm just throwing them away," he said in a statement after introducing the motion on Jan. 13.

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A report from the International Waste Association estimated that the amount of wasted single-use foodware and accessory items has increased about 250% to 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people pick up food and dine at home.

"The casual disposal of tons of plastic utensils has severely affected our beautiful coastline," Krekorian said in a statement after introducing the motion. "This action will help us gain a measure of control over what has become an environmental catastrophe."

The motion was praised by Andrea Leon-Grossman, who serves as climate action director for the environmental justice organization Azul, which focuses on ocean stewardship.

"Single-use waste is an environmental justice issue that needs to be addressed at the source," Leon-Grossman said in January. "We commend the L.A. City Council for introducing the motion to reduce waste by enacting an 'opt-in' model and look forward to working with the city to implement solutions that will help our city be more sustainable and equitable."

The motion was also praised by activists with the Surfrider Foundation and Heal The Bay.

"This motion represents a small but critical step in the city's effort to confront the nexus of plastic pollution, public health and climate justice," Surfrider Foundation Los Angeles Manager Graham Hamilton said.

Emily Parker, coastal and marine scientist for Heal the Bay, shared concerns about the increase in single-use plastics during the pandemic.

"Switching to an `upon request' model for to-go accessories like utensils and straws -- items that are often unwanted and unused -- reduces unnecessary, harmful plastic waste and saves restaurants money," she said.

The motion is similar to the city's straws-on-request law that went into effect on April 22, 2019. That law bans all Los Angeles restaurants from automatically giving customers plastic straws.