The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to establish a local law that would require restaurants and other foodservice businesses to provide takeout and delivery utensils “upon request only.” Basically, if you need them, you can get them, but if you don’t — no need to waste! City officials hope this new ordinance will go into effect on April 22, 2021 — Earth Day. This will prevent waste and save restaurants money.
Disposable plastic use is on the rise across the globe. The United States throws away more than 30 billion single-use forks, knives, and spoons each year — the vast majority of which cannot be recycled. According to research conducted at UCLA, no recycling facility in LA County accepts plastic utensils. This is due to their small size, food contamination issues, and type of plastic materials used to produce them. A report from the International Waste Association estimated that the amount of wasted single-use foodware and accessory items have increased about 250% to 300% during the pandemic, as more people pick up food and dine at home.
This #SkipTheStuff initiative will save the City and taxpayers money from unnecessary trash cleanups in our neighborhoods, and reduce the extremely costly need to expand landfills to accommodate additional waste. So many fossil fuels and other resources go into producing these utensils. This ordinance is a win-win for the environment, businesses, and communities.
Plastic utensils were introduced in the 1940s, but were not mass-produced until the 1950s, with the introduction of polypropylene, a common type of plastic. At first, plastic utensils were only used for large gatherings like birthday parties. By the 1960s plastic spoons, forks, and knives were common, but they were reusable. With how cheap and ubiquitous plastic has become, it is often less expensive for most restaurants to use them than to hire a dishwasher.
So much of the trash that ends up in our landfills seems to be generated uncontrollably. You’ve probably cringed when you’ve ordered take-out and specified “no utensils or straws please,” and they still ended up in the bag. As individuals, we all need to do our part to reduce our stream of waste, but with teamwork and common-sense ideas, we can reduce even more plastic pollution from major sources, like factories, businesses, and restaurants.
Many of the plastic spoons, forks, and knives provided for carry-out food are never even used at all, classifying them as “zero-use.” Zero-use plastics are even more wasteful than single-use, and both are on the rise since 2020. It’s only logical that restaurants and food delivery services set the default option as “no utensils,” rather than automatically creating more pollution with every order.
The primary ingredients in most of today’s plastics are hydrocarbon molecules, mostly produced from oil or natural gas. After the fossil fuels have been drilled, they are sent to various factories that are often significant sources of pollution in their communities.
Plastic’s Environmental Impact
Dirty fossil fuels are sent to dangerous factories where they are converted to chemicals, then converted into small pellets called “nurdles.” Nurdles can be melted and molded into utensils and other objects. The word plastic actually comes from the Greek verb plassein, which means “to mold or shape.” Often, these single-use items are bundled with other plastic objects and then wrapped in a single-use plastic wrapper that also ends up in landfills.
Many of these factories are in impoverished communities in the United States and China. This process creates a lot of air and water pollution. Some of the chemical and plastic byproducts are known to be carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins, and prolonged exposure to these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer, neurological effects and reproductive abnormalities.
These impacts also present significant environmental justice issues, with frontline and fenceline communities bearing a disproportionate burden of the impacts from climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and incineration associated with single-use waste. our nation’s municipal landfills are exceeding their capacity, and invariably require expensive expansion to accommodate the growing amount of waste. Such expansion projects can be wildly expensive and cost local taxpayers millions of dollars that could otherwise go toward expanding vital social services. As individuals, we all need to do our part to reduce our waste output, but with common-sense legislation, we can reduce even more plastic pollution from major sources like factories, businesses, and restaurants.
Plastic pollutes our streams, rivers, and oceans. We need tougher plastic laws. LA will inspire other cities and counties to adopt this legislation. This new law gives us a glimmer of hope shining from sunny Southern California! You can help by spreading the word. Please plant the seeds for this solution to grow in your communities by discussing it with your friends, family, and especially your elected officials!
Learn more about reducing waste here.