Chicago implements single-use plastic ordinance

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Trash in Chicago drain

Audrey Richardson

Single-use waste wraps around S. Canal Street in Chicago on Feb. 6, 2022. The single-use plastic ban is an attempt from Chicago government officials to prevent further rise in Chicago’s carbon footprint.

Ordinance opinion

Cook County Commissioner for the 12th District Bridget Degnen said this ordinance is a “step in the right direction” while restaurant owners said they weren’t aware of the new ordinance.

As of Jan. 18, 2022 there is a ban on single-use plastics in Chicago restaurants unless specifically asked for by the customer. The ban includes forks, spoons, sporks, knifes, chopsticks, other eating utensils, stirrers, drink stoppers, splash sticks, cocktail sticks, toothpicks, napkins, wet-wipes, cup sleeves, beverage trays, disposable plates and condiment packets. 

Under the ordinance, restaurants are not allowed to give out these items unless specifically asked for by the customer. Ordinance exemptions include airport restaurants and drive-thrus. 

Ordinance compliance is voluntary, and restaurant owners will not receive penalties if it is not followed. 

While Degnen is not a member of the Chicago City Council that passed the legislation, she said, “My district is situated entirely within the City of Chicago, so my job tends to blend in with the City happenings.”

Prior to becoming a commissioner, Degnen was an environmental engineer and served as the Deputy General Counsel of the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

When referring to elected officials Degnen said: “We all realize that reducing Chicago’s carbon footprint will require significant legislation and policy changes. The ordinance is just one small action from the Chicago government to decrease the city’s environmental impact. 

While the ordinance impact seems minimal at the moment, if issues regarding Chicago’s carbon footprint continue to be pressed upon governmental leaders, there will be greater effects. 

Degnen said that if Chicago residents care about these issues then so will the elected officials. 

“Regular and sustained outreach to our elected officials on environmental issues helps them focus their attention on these issues that are most important,” Degnen said.  

COVID-19 impacting plastic usage in restaurants

The ordinance was partly in response to the massive increase in demand of single-use plastics during the COVID-19 pandemic. For over five months businesses were mandated to close their dine-in services and only provide take-out options. 

A study conducted by University of Illinois Chicago showed stark contrasts in waste production from 2019 to 2020. The report found that the waste generation from single-family residents had increased almost 10% in 2020. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of waste generated by single-family residents had steadily declined since 2014. 

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Members of restaurant industry unaware

Despite the Chicago City Council’s attempts through multiple press releases, some businesses are unaware that the ordinance even exists.

Venus Johnson, a restaurant manager at Beggars Pizza on S. Clinton Street in Chicago has never heard of the ordinance.

Beggars Pizza is a casual-dining chain that is known for its Chicago style deep-dish pizza.

Outside of Beggars Pizza in Chicago

Audrey Richardson

The notorious Chicago deep-dish pizza is a customer favorite at Beggars Pizza on 310 S. Clinton St.

Not only does Beggars Pizza provide single-use plastics for their take-out customers but they are also using these plastic utensils for customers dining in. 

There was a shared confusion regarding the ordinance from Steve Lombardo, co-founder and chairman of Gibsons Restaurant Group. 

“I don’t even know,” Lombardo said. What is it?” 

Lombardo partially owns 10 fine-dining restaurants in the Chicago area. While the Gibsons take-out revenue does not compare to their dine-in sales, Lombardo said they still provide condiment packets, napkins and beverage trays for their take-out customers. 

While unaware of the new legislation, both Johnson and Lombardo said they would be open to following it. 

“I definitely think that should be an option where you just get those things upon request,” Johnson said. 

Despite the disconnect between the Chicago City Council and the restaurant industry, legislatures are hopeful this ordinance will make a meaningful impact. 

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