Chicago’s Proposed Ban on “Single-Use Foodware” and What That Means for Sustainability

At the City Council meeting of Wednesday, June 23rd, a measure was introduced that will change the takeout experience and cut down on plastic pollution. George Cardenas, the Chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, along with Alderman Samantha Nugent, introduced an ordinance that would no longer allow the distribution of sealed plastic utensil packets with delivered meals. This ordinance allows the packets to be included if the customer requests it for eating at work or on the go. However, they would no longer be permitted to be included within a delivery to someone’s house as it is presumed that those with the money to afford carry-out from a restaurant also possess utensils of their own. 

While this change is obvious to some, there are many considerations that have curtailed similar measures in the past that are still relevant. One large issue to contend with is how this ban will be monitored, which hinges on the spirit in which it is carried out. Is this ban meant to signify a shift in the culture, requiring a slowdown on the orders of the packets by restaurants and distributors, or is it to be seen as something more serious and punitive, the type that includes fines, reporting, and overall more aggressive forms of action? This is assuming that restaurants would not be eager to make this change. While it is mostly a procedural change implemented by the restaurant association, the measure looks to save establishments a small amount of money right when they need it the most. 

The trepidation that some on the council demonstrated seems to be rooted in the implied ending to the previous sentence. Since restaurants in the Chicago area are in dire financial straits, it is essential to proceed with caution for any change in policy. Added regulation may not actually cost more, but communicating the changes to customers who may or may not be receptive to the ordinance’s logic takes time that many short-staffed eateries cannot afford to waste.

This ordinance was partly intended as a way to reorient the practices of Chicago’s industries with those around the world, with some countries charging a 5 or 10 cent fee for the inclusion of a utensil packet. In the United States alone there are eight states that have bans on plastic bags, and even though Illinois is not one of those places Chicago, with its reputation as a liberal enclave, has a point to prove. Even though this proposed ordinance wouldn’t ban plastic bags but single-use utensils, it is the less high-profile, more common sense option. While Chicago has fought to become a leader in sustainable policy, this ordinance is a foothold for larger, progressive change. 

Moving into the future, the opportunity is beginning to present itself for innovative replacements for the refuse of the restaurant industry. With this policy change, the strategy from the city to green industries seems to be jump and the net will appear. Even though the council is proceeding cautiously, the widespread approval, acceptance, and distribution of green products takes a long time. 

Change may not happen overnight, or even soon, but with green manufactures stepping in to find replacements for single-use utensils and containers, the restaurant industry in Chicago can demonstrate there’s no excuse for single use.


–Jacob Rosen