Queens councilman introduces bill to give customers ability to opt-in or out of using non-reusable utensils while dining

Courtesy of Van Bramer’s office

A new legislation that would require food establishments to give customers the option to choose whether they want to use non-reusable eating utensils for dine-in, takeout or delivery services, was introduced by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer on Thursday.

The bill is meant to reduce the use of eating utensils that are predominantly made of plastic, which are not reusable or recyclable. This would apply to non-reusable plates, bowls, forks, spoons and napkins; but would exclude straws and stirrers, according to a press release.

“We must reckon with the harmful effects that everyday plastic utensils have on our environment and do everything we can to prevent irreparable harm to our oceans and our planet,” Van Bramer said. “The status quo of including plastic utensils in all food orders by default is unnecessary and unsustainable.”

The bill would give customers the chance to make the final call, as they would need to affirmatively opt-in to receive non-reusable eating utensils with their food.

But the default option for all takeout and delivery services would be to not provide any non-reusable utensils or condiment packets, according to the legislation. 

When dining in, no food establishment in the city with the capacity for dishwashing, would be allowed to provide non-reusable eating utensils for their customers, with the exception of napkins, as determined by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Additionally, the legislation states that the Department of Consumer Affairs would be required to “conduct outreach and create educational materials for businesses and customers” in order to inform them of the new requirements to opt-in or opt-out of non-reusable eating utensils. The department would also issue violations if necessary.

Bramer, who represents Queens’ 26th District, has received support from Councilman Rafael Espinal; Surfrider Foundation’s NYC Chapter Vice Chair Patrick Diamond; ReusableNYC coalition Coordinator Jennie Romer; New York League of Conservation Voters’ President Julie Tighe; Upstream’s Director Miriam Gordon; Beyond Plastics’ Founder Judith Enck; and Oceana’s New York Campaign Organizer Brian Langloss.

Melissa Iachan, senior staff attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said the law can help New York City “adopt more sustainable practices.”

“We at NYLPI work with the frontline communities who bear the brunt of the mass amount of waste our City produces, of which single use plastics is a significant component,” Iachan said. “We applaud Council Member Van Bramer’s legislation to curb the use of single use plastic utensils in our City. This law will help New Yorkers to change their bad habits of tossing these plastics out and adopt more sustainable practices, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the process.”

According to a press release, plastic utensils are usually “thrown away after one single use and end up in landfills.” It is also estimated that 40 billion plastic utensils are used in the United States alone each year. 

The process of making those utensils also has a high carbon footprint, “which contributes to the existential threat of climate change,” according to a press release.

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