LA ordinance would ban self-serve plastic utensils in restaurants to reduce waste

In an effort to alleviate some financial burdens on Los Angeles restaurants and reduce plastic waste, the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday is expected to approve an ordinance that would make disposable foodware, including utensils and napkins, only available at restaurants when requested by customers.

The ordinance, which was requested in a motion passed unanimously by City Council, would go into effect for  and beverage facilities with more 26 employees on Nov. 15, 2021 and for all food and beverage facilities on April 22, 2022.

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

It would prohibit the facilities from having self-service disposable foodware dispensers and from providing or offering disposable foodware accessories to dine-in customers and take-out customers, except when requested.

Facilities that violate the ordinance would be subject to a written notice for the first and second violation, followed by a $25 fine for each subsequent violation. A facility's collective fines would not exceed $300 per calendar year.

RELATED: California bans hotels from using tiny plastic bottles

The motion to request the ordinance was introduced by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian on Jan. 13. The two councilmen, along with Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, expect the ordinance to pass on its first reading Wednesday and scheduled a 1:30 news conference outside City Hall to celebrate.

Koretz previously called the switch to on-request-only utensils 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."

He also 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.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced his support for the ordinance during his State of the City address on Monday. He also called for a citywide ban on Styrofoam.

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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 in January. "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
 help our city be more sustainable and equitable."

The move to ban automatic distribution of plastic foodware 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 ordinance would be 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.

The L.A City Council is scheduled to consider the ordinance at its 10 a.m. meeting, which can be viewed online.