NYC Council May Nix Unwanted Plastic Utensils to Help Planet

This “Skip-the-Stuff” bill would cut back on millions of pounds-a-year of throw-away plastics, reduce waste going to incinerators and landfills, and save businesses money.

Plastic utensils and other unwanted stuff from take-out deliveries pile up -- wasting resources and eating into restaurant earnings.

Momentum is building in the New York City Council to pass legislation that would require restaurants to provide plastic utensils, condiments, chopsticks, napkins and plastic plates to take-out customers only upon request.

This “Skip-the-Stuff” bill would cut back on millions of pounds-a-year of throw-away plastics, reduce waste going to incinerators and landfills and save money for restaurant operators who would see hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in reduced costs annually.

The legislation, spearheaded by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, has added new co-sponsors in recent weeks and now has the support of a majority of the 51-member City Council.

The growing list of sponsors is hopeful that Speaker Corey Johnson will set a hearing date for the bill and allow the full Council to vote on it before year’s end. So are many New Yorkers who don’t want to generate unnecessary waste and who are tired of receiving unwanted plastic junk with their take-out orders.  

In addition to its environmental benefits, the Skip-the-Stuff legislation would save big money for thousands of New York restaurants, many of whom are still suffering the adverse economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Legislation similar to New York City’s Skip-the-Stuff bill was recently enacted in Los Angeles.  And the sponsor of the Los Angeles bill noted that California restaurants that have already implemented the new “utensils-on-request” policy have saved $3,000 a year or more in reduced expenditures.

With such savings in mind, the Skip-the-Stuff bill has garnered support from the city’s leading restaurant trade association, the New York City Hospitality Alliance. Andrew Rigie, the Alliance’s Executive Director, has endorsed the legislation.  He successfully urged the Council to add a provision that waives fines for first-time offenders.  And he believes that, overall, the legislation will indeed yield real savings every year for city restaurant operators. 

The Skip-the-Stuff bill can cut waste and save money for restaurants, but only if Speaker Corey Johnson OKs a Council vote on the legislation.

The Skip-the-Stuff legislation is the latest in a series of legislative efforts to curb single-use plastics in New York.  Just the other day, the New York City “Straws-on-Request” legislation took effect in restaurants across the five boroughs.  One year ago, a Statewide ban on distributing plastic carry-out bags at retail stores went into force, whittling down the number of bags (23 billion, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation) that are used and discarded in New York every year.  And following earlier action by New York City, the New York State Legislature banned polystyrene foam food and beverage containers -- vanquishing these environmentally problematic items from restaurants and food stands as of January 2022.   

These anti-plastics initiatives are part of a broader national effort to slash the ever-growing amount of plastics, especially throw-away plastics.  Virtually all plastics are manufactured from climate-destroying fossil-fuels.  And, as the use of such fuels in motor vehicles is projected to decrease in future decades, Big Oil is counting on the growth of plastics manufacturing as a major profit center.  For all who care about mitigating the climate crisis, protecting the ocean environment and curbing neighborhood air pollution, reversing the oil and gas industry’s stepped-up plastics production is an essential objective.

In addition to NRDC, a boatload of community activists in all five boroughs and many environmental organizations have been building support for New York City’s Skip-the-Stuff legislation.  They include Beyond Plastics, Cafeteria Culture, Green Schools Alliance, Manhattan SWAB, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York League of Conservation Voters, Oceania, Sierra Club and Surfrider,, and Upstream.    

As noted above, a majority of City Council members is now co-sponsoring the environmentally sensible, restaurant-assisting Skip-the-Stuff legislation.  Whether this bill makes it across the finish line before the end of the Council’s term on December 31st is largely up to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson who controls the legislative calendar.  Passage of this bill would enhance Speaker Johnson’s environmental legacy and lend a hand to our beloved local restaurants. 

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