A group of Chicago aldermen are moving to ban expanded polystyrene takeout containers, require restaurants to serve eat-in customers on reusable plates and dishes, and let customers bring their own cups to Chicago restaurants to cut down on plastic pollution citywide.
Backed by environmental groups such as the Illinois Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Chicago Recycling Coalition, Illinois PIRG and Friends of the Chicago River as well as the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, Alderman Scott Waguespack introduced an ordinance Jan. 15 to move restaurants toward using reusable, recyclable or compostable cups, bowls, plates and silverware.
"It is essential that we address the crisis of plastic pollution in our waters and beyond," Waguespack said in a release. Many of the ordinance's provisions would kick in on Jan. 1, 2021. "All of the research points to the grave risk of plastic pollution in our waterways. It is time to effect meaningful change and protect our resources and communities."
Chicago has one of the most dismal recycling rates of major cities nationwide — advocates have said better education and a greater emphasis on composting could help address the city's green footprint.
The coalition backing the ordinance says that close to "22 million pounds of plastic enter our Great Lakes waterways each year, contaminating the source of drinking water for millions of Chicagoans and ecosystems for millions of wildlife."
Aside from banning restaurants from giving out food in EPS packaging, disposable forks, spoons, knives and straws would be given out only if they're requested or made available at self-service stations. Restaurants would also be encouraged to do away with disposable condiment packets.
The ordinance also allows customers to bring their own cups for drinks and mandates restaurants serve eat-in customers with reusable plates and bowls. Restaurants can ask for waivers from the city under certain circumstances, including if they don't have a dishwasher on-site. Restaurants that want to use disposables would be required to use compostable or recyclable materials.
Violators' first warning would be a written notice, but fines would climb from there — $100 for the second violation in the same calendar year, $250 for the third and $500 for each violation after that.
Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the organization supports restaurants' "voluntary" efforts to decrease their environmental footprint but said the added costs would be burdensome. "Restaurants also face massive legislative and regulatory burdens — such as a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and Fair Workweek rules — that result in average profit margins that are already pennies on the dollar.
"Any proposed regulations on plastics need to consider the additional financial hardships that will be placed on operators and implications for safety and sanitation, customer requests, drive-through areas, medical necessity of plastic food-ware and other considerations," Toia said.