Skip the Stuff: A Simple Solution To The Single-Use Plastics Epidemic

Every day, almost 100 million plastic utensils are discarded across the United States. The cost to dispose of single-use food ware in a single year is estimated at about 1 billion dollars. Despite these shocking numbers, many restaurants still give out disposable cutlery with every take-out and delivery order. Intro 1775-B is a bill that would require food establishments to only provide non-reusable utensils, condiments, and napkins upon request. While similar bills have been successfully passed in major cities such as Los Angeles, the New York City Council has yet to even have a council hearing concerning this bill. The New York League of Conservation Voters supports the passage of Intro 1775-B to reduce the city’s residential waste.

Take-out and delivery orders have almost doubled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some food delivery apps do give the option to only receive single-use utensils upon request, this does not cover the thousands of daily orders made through other means. The use of disposable cutlery has increased dramatically in the last year and a half, even through dine-in, as many establishments choose to provide non-reusable food ware for sanitary purposes. Although this may be effective at lessening the chances of cross-contamination, it has a long-lasting impact on not only the environment but the economy as well.

Manufacturing plastic requires the use of fossil fuels, which significantly increase global gas emissions. The Mayor’s Office reported approximately 36 million pounds of single-use plastic food ware is collected from New York City’s residential waste stream. Disposable forks, spoons, and bowls can take up to 1,000 years to decompose naturally. Since these items are often too small for recycling machines, they end up in landfills or incinerators. Many of these items are petroleum-based, and even when they do degrade over the course of decades, they end up as microplastics. Microplastics can find their way into waterways and wildlife, eventually contaminating our food supply and ending up in our bodies. 

The restaurant industry in the United States spends $19 billion on plastic utensils annually. Many of these utensils end up unused, sitting in our cars and kitchens for months to years. The city of New York singlehandedly spends $42 million a year just to manage the waste from single-use cutlery. Passing this bill would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars saved each year from businesses and the city’s budget. By simply asking patrons to opt for single-use food ware, we can see tremendous economic and environmental benefits.

The passage of Intro 1775-B would provide a much more sustainable means of consumption in New York City. It would require food establishments to follow the mandate and provide education for both consumers and businesses alike. NYLCV hopes the city council will have a hearing before the end of 2021 to publicly discuss this bill.