L.A. will limit use of disposable napkins and utensils in restaurants

ROSEMEAD, CA - JANUARY 15: Nasi Kuning Komplit (with turmeric rice) from Medan Kitchen during Covid-19 on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 in Rosemead, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles ordinance would prohibit restaurants from providing or offering disposable utensils except when requested. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In an effort to alleviate some financial burdens on Los Angeles restaurants and reduce plastic waste, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved an ordinance to make disposable items such as utensils and napkins available at restaurants only when requested by customers.

The ordinance is subject to Mayor Eric Garcetti's approval and would go into effect for food and beverage facilities with more than 26 employees on Nov. 15, and for all food and beverage facilities on April 22, 2022.

Garcetti voiced his support for the ordinance during his State of the City address on Monday. He also called for a citywide ban on plastic foam.

The ordinance would prohibit self-service disposable foodware dispensers and prohibit providing or offering disposable foodware accessories to dine-in and takeout customers, except when requested.

Facilities that violate the ordinance would be subject to a written notice for the first and second violation, followed by a $25 fine for each subsequent violation. A facility's collective fines would not exceed $300 per calendar year.

The motion to request the ordinance was introduced by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian on Jan. 13.

Koretz previously called the switch to on-request-only utensils an "easy, common sense requirement that we hope will help restaurants save money, help the city save money from unnecessary trash cleanups in our neighborhoods and help stop piling unused stuff in our already teeming landfills."

He said California restaurants that have already switched to by-request utensils have saved between $3,000 and $21,000 per year.

A report from the International Waste Assn. estimated that the amount of wasted single-use foodware and accessory items has increased about 250% to 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people pick up food and dine at home.

"The casual disposal of tons of plastic utensils has severely affected our beautiful coastline," Krekorian said in a statement after introducing the motion in January. "This action will help us gain a measure of control over what has become an environmental catastrophe."

The ordinance is similar to the city's straws-on-request law that went into effect in 2019. That law bans all Los Angeles restaurants from automatically giving customers plastic straws.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.