First published in the Sept. 18 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The City Council this week agreed to bar food and drink vendors from automatically throwing plastic cutlery, straws or other such accessories into to-go orders unless the customer requests them.
In doing so, the council and other city officials aim to curb the local contribution of single-use plastics to landfills and stymie the litter that makes its way to oceans. Activists have urged the reduced use of these plastics, which do not degrade and harm a variety of wildlife that incidentally ingest them.
David Jones, the city’s sustainability officer, said in 2016 that Americans used 561 billion pieces of disposable food ware.
“These items are hard to manage and hard to recycle,” he told the council on Tuesday. “They cause litter. They go down storm drains and end up in our oceans and on beaches.”
The key detail to the ordinance is that customers remain free to request the utensils. The driving force behind crafting the regulation, however, was to discourage restaurants from filling bags unnecessarily with the cutlery packets, which famously fill up drawers in home kitchens or corporate dining rooms where washable silverware is aplenty.
To drive the point home, Councilman Dan Brotman pointed out that earlier in the day, the council and city staffers all ordered lunch.
“They did what they’ve been taught to do, what everybody thinks you have to do, which is throw these items in the bag,” he said, pausing and holding up a handful of cutlery packets. “We get all these items, but we have silverware here, so this goes into a drawer and I guess potentially it would build up until somebody got frustrated and threw it all away.”
(Councilman Ara Najarian interjected, quipping an urgent: “I’ll take those, don’t throw those away, Dan! Put them on my desk.”)
“I think it’s very good we’re taking these steps,” he said more seriously, signaling support for the measure.
Once formally adopted, the city plans to conduct an educational campaign with local eateries to explain the new regulations and break down the punitive actions. After two written notices of violation, an eatery will begin to incur $25 fines beginning on the third and subsequent violations. After reaching $300 in fines, the business will be at the mercy of the city attorney.
Once there is a second reading of the ordinance, it goes into effect 30 days later. The city will suspend enforcement for an additional 180 days after that to conduct the outreach campaign.
“The purpose of the education program would be to work with them so that doesn’t happen,” Jones said of the fines.
Brotman added that in speaking about the issue with a local vendor, he learned that those packets cost around 15 cents each, which adds up throughout the course of a day. In all likelihood, he said, vendors stand to save a meaningful amount of money with this regulation.
“I think, substantively, I’m happy with what you’ve got on the table,” he said. “I think what this does is it provides some cover for the food vendors. If everyone is having to follow this, they benefit — they save money — and our landfill benefits by not having to have all this junk go into it.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian supported the ordinance, but wished for the city to produce signage and other notices to distribute to restaurants to ensure that all patrons, regardless of communication barriers, can know that the rule comes from the city, not from restaurant owners. He also made it clear that the city’s regulation would not affect the operations of the Glendale Unified School District or Glendale Community College, and encouraged intergovernmental collaboration to encourage them to adopt similar policies.
The full council (sans an absent Mayor Paula Devine) approved the ordinance.