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Want Plastic Utensils Or Napkins With Your Takeout? Now You Have To Ask For Them, After City Council Passes Ordinance

In four months, Chicago restaurants will be mostly banned from giving out single-use plastics with meals.

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CHICAGO — Local restaurants cannot offer customers plasticware, napkins or condiment packets for takeout orders unless they specifically request them, following a City Council vote Tuesday to drastically reduce single-use plastics.

Alderpeople voted 37-10 to ban restaurants from giving out single-use utensils, stirrers, toothpicks, napkins, cup sleeves and disposable plates in most cases. Drive-thrus, airports, charity food giveaways would be exempt from the rule. The ban also does not include straws, cup lids or food takeout containers, or apply to “self-service stations,” where customers can grab their own napkins or condiments. 

The ordinance was approved over opposition from alderpeople who wanted a more sweeping plastics crackdown. An original version of the law was changed to allow some leeway for local businesses who are recovering from the pandemic and may need single-use plastics for safety reasons for workers and customers, among other reasons.

Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Sophia King (4th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th) voted no.

Those who supported the final version of the law acknowledged it doesn’t go far enough, but said “small, incremental change” is needed now without overburdening restaurant owners.

“When you order takeout delivery, it seems the bag is always half full of plastic utensils, extra condiments and napkins,” lead sponsor Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) said Monday. “We don’t wish to penalize restaurants at this time for non-compliance, but to push both businesses and consumers in the right direction and to, of course, encourage good behavior.”

The ordinance goes into effect in four months.

Native garden registry also approved

City Council also approved a measure backed by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) to establish the city’s first native garden registry, which would help gardeners avoid being issued bogus citations by the city when plants are mistaken for weeds.

The registry would stop city inspectors from citing property owners who have registered their native gardens and are in compliance with the city. Vacant, overgrown lots that may contain some native plants but are not listed on the registry could still be ticketed.

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