Los Angeles Says No More Plastic Utensils, Napkins

Restaurant customers will have to ask for the single-use items with their to-go orders.

November 17, 2021

single use utensils

LOS ANGELES—Restaurants in Los Angeles with more than 26 employees can no longer include plastic utensils or paper napkins in to-go bags, according to the Los Angeles Times.

If customers want these items, they have to ask and only then can the businesses hand them out. Single-use disposable foodware dispensers also will be removed. The ordinance took effect on Monday, but it won’t be enforced until January. Starting April 22, the ordinance will apply to all food and beverage facilities.

The purpose of the new rules is to reduce waste and costs. Tom Waldman, a spokesperson for Paul Krekorian who was one of the city council members that proposed the ordinance, said that switching to only providing plastic cutlery on demand saved businesses $3,000 to $21,000 a year, according to figures cited by his office.

However, a Los Angeles deli owner disagreed. “The new rules will cost more money than it saves,” he said. “It’s not worth the amount of money to save on plastic utensils than it is to have an unhappy customer.”

Malibu, California, has banned plastic bags since 2008 and banned single-use plastics in 2018. Davis and San Luis Obispo have similar laws. The state of California doesn’t allow full-service restaurants to hand out plastic straws, but customers can ask for them. Convenience stores and fast-food restaurants are exempt from the law.

Seattle banned plastic utensils and straws in 2018, while Honolulu ruled that plastic bags and plastic utensils be available by customer demand only earlier this year. Colorado lawmakers passed a bill in June that would ban the use of Styrofoam and would tax most single-use plastics.

Maine recently passed a far-reaching sustainability plan that creates an “extended producer responsibility” program for packaging materials. Maine’s law follows existing models in Europe and Canada and requires that everyone along the supply chain—including foodservice operators and retailers—be responsible for handling waste and other packaging, such as plastic, paper and cardboard, and bear the cost of recycling. Oregon recently enacted a similar law.

Supply chain snarls have started affecting the availability of takeout items such as plastic straws, coffee cups and to-go containers. Off-premise restaurant orders were up 20% in September compared with the same time two years ago, according to the NPD Group, and the increased demand for takeout has pressured the foodservice supply chain.

Costs have also increased for packaging companies that manufacture takeout containers, straws and to-go cups, as shipping container costs increase. International Paper said that it took on an additional $50 million in supply chain costs for its export operations in its latest quarter.