The plastic utensils and condiment packets that come with to-go food could become a thing of the past, after the Denver City Council business committee approved an ordinance requiring customers to opt-in to receive them.
The ordinance was unanimously approved by the committee during its meeting Wednesday. It will now be sent to the full City Council for a vote before implementation.
Under the ordinance, restaurants and third-party delivery companies would be required to ask customers if they want single-use items like cutlery, napkins and condiments instead of providing them automatically. For online orders, customers would need to opt-in to receive them by checking a box.
Councilwoman Kendra Black, who sponsored the ordinance, said its goal is to reduce single-use plastic in Denver and the amount of plastic going into landfills.
“I know we all have drawers in our kitchen that are full of old ketchup packets and soy sauce packets and forks that we will never use, and they will end up in the landfill,” Black said. “If we don’t get them to begin with, then we won’t dispose of them.”
Single-use items under the ordinance are expected to include straws, stirrers, drink stoppers, utensils, chopsticks, condiments, portion cups, napkins and large serving utensils.
In the U.S., nearly 36 million tons of plastic waste is generated annually and around 75% goes to landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The International Solid Waste Association estimates single-use plastic consumption has grown by 250% to 300% in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic – which can be partially attributed to increasing use of food delivery and to-go ordering.
The issue is also evident in Denver, specifically. During a trash collection audit by TrashBlitz Denver in October, six out of the top 20 most littered items were food wrappers, straws, lids, cups, plastic cutlery and to-go containers.
“You might think it’s just one fork and it doesn’t matter, but as we all know, there’s millions of them,” Black said.
Black said she conducted extensive community outreach – including to Eat Denver, the Colorado Restaurant Association and over 2,000 local restaurants – and has received no opposition to the bill.
Similarly, no members of the public called in during the meeting or submitted letters of opposition Wednesday.
Black attributed this to the fact that not giving single-use items to every customer saves money for restaurants.
The companies UberEats, DoorDash and Postmates already ask their customers to opt-in for single-use items and, in 2020, GrubHub did an opt-in pilot program in New York and New Jersey in which 80% of customers opted-out and the company received zero complaints out of 120,000 orders.
“How many times do we get bills with no opposition? I think that’s pretty awesome,” said Councilman Chris Hinds, who co-sponsored the ordinance.
Council members Jolon Clark and Deborah Ortega also praised the ordinance Wednesday.
Businesses that will likely be exempt from the ordinance include schools, facilities providing patient care, hotels and service providers like Meals on Wheels and homeless shelters.
If approved by the full City Council, the Denver Office of Climate Action will establish the rules and enforcement practices for the ordinance. The law would go into effect as soon as the rules and practices are finalized.
Enforcement practices are expected to be complaint-based and will offer restaurants and delivery companies the opportunity to address issues before any fines or penalties are imposed.