Chicago, IL

New law in Chicago is in effect banning restaurants from handing out plastic utensils

Jennifer Geer

If you want plasticware with your takeout in Chicago, you're going to have to ask for it

(CHICAGO) Gone are the days when you would find a wad of plastic utensils and napkins dropped into your takeout order. And though it does sometimes seem as though half the takeout bag is full of unneeded disposable napkins and forks, this may no longer be an issue unless requested.

Starting on Tuesday, January 18th, if customers want single-use items such as plasticware and napkins, they will have to ask for them. The purpose of the law is to cut down on waste.

The ordinance was proposed by Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) over the summer and was passed in September of 2021. “Plastic waste is at an all-time high,” Nugent told WTTW. “The goal here is to take the first step (toward) small, incremental change.”

What items does the law include?

The law includes items such as plastic utensils, condiments, napkins, wet wipes, and disposable plates.

What items are not included?

Not included in the ban are straws, lids for beverages, cup sleeves or beverage stoppers for hot drinks, and containers to package food.

Are there any exemptions?

Drive-thrus and airport restaurants do not need to follow the ordinance according to the City Council because customers of those establishments don't have access to their own utensils. Charity food pantries and prepackaged food with utensils already included are also exempt.

Environmental groups think Chicago's law does not go far enough

According to an article this fall from the Chicago SunTimes, environmental groups feel although any restrictions are a step in the right direction, the Chicago ordinance is watered down and lacks any real repercussions such as fines.

According to WTTW, the Illinois Environmental Council has been critical of the ordinance. Colleen Smith, deputy director of the council told WTTW, "We feel something that’s being disguised as meaningful action won’t have a meaningful outcome. Right now we need to make sure any step we take has an outcome that addresses the issue we’re trying to solve, which is the proliferation of plastics.”

How does the public feel about the ordinance?

According to a Twitter poll conducted in September from CBS Chicago, respondents were slightly in favor of the single-use plastic ordinance. Supporters of the ban slightly outweighed those opposing by 56.6% to 43.4%.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

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