Chicago introduced an ordinance this week that would ban restaurants from using polystyrene (aka foam) to-go containers and also limit the amount of disposable plastics they use.
The “Plastic-Free Water” ordinance, introduced by Alderman (32nd) Scott Waguespack and Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), calls for a total ban of polystyrene packaging that would go into effect on January 1, 2021. Restaurants would have to substitute with reusable dishes for dine-in orders and recyclable or compostable ones for takeout and delivery orders.
The ordinance also calls for a limit — though not a total ban — on single-use plastics like to-go cutlery. Restaurants would give these items out if requested or have them available at self-service stations, rather than packaging them with each order by default. Additionally, customers would be able to bring their own reusable cups.
Restaurants that do not have the space to wash dishes and can’t contract out that work (think food trucks or mall kiosks) would be able to request a full or partial waiver.
To help restaurants understand the kinds of alternative packaging available to them, the city of Chicago would provide a list of businesses that sell recyclable and compostable materials, and would also give restaurant printable signs to put up directing customers where to properly dispose of their items (e.g., in the compost bin versus the one recycling).
Providing restaurants with a list of available alternatives to polystyrene is an important step in the industry, as one of the issues businesses face when making the switch to sustainable to-go packaging is even knowing what else is out there. Whether these alternatives will actually be realistically affordable, especially for smaller, independent restaurants, remains in question. To that end, the Illinois Restaurant Association released a statement on Wednesday that more or less supports these efforts but also points out that the ordinance could drive costs for restaurant owners higher.