Over 40 billion pieces of single-use plastic utensils are thrown away every year, adding to the world’s growing plastic pollution crisis. A major contributor to this waste stream is take-out and delivery orders. Many restaurants hand out disposable plastic and paper accessories with the food order by default — even if the customer didn’t request them. A campaign, launched by nonprofit Habits of Waste is working to change that.
The majority of these single-use items are not recyclable. Their continued use adds to the plastic pollution that litters our streets and greenways, overfills landfills, and contaminates our waterways and oceans. The COVID-19 pandemic more than doubled digital food orders, with a corresponding increase in single-use disposable food-ware and packaging — in addition to the dramatic increase in disposable PPE waste.
Reducing the consumption of single-use food-ware items doesn’t just keep harmful waste out of the environment; it also lowers restaurants’ expenses as they recover from pandemic-related losses.
Habits of Waste #CutOutCutlery Campaign
The #CutOutCutlery campaign was launched by Habits of Waste to tackle this wasteful practice seen across restaurants worldwide. So far, #CutOutCutlery has convinced Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates, and Grubhub to change their default settings globally, making single-use plastic cutlery available by request only. This movement inspired new legislation in multiple major cities across the U.S., including Denver, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
Habits of Waste is a movement of social change-makers with a proven track record of shifting societal beliefs, behaviors, and norms for environmental sustainability. The mission is to clean up the planet one “habit of waste” at a time.
States Getting Involved
Since California first banned single-use plastic bags in 2014, we’ve seen New York, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, and many others other states enact similar legislation. Although there have been some setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, #CutOutCutlery is putting the spotlight on all single-use plastic waste beyond grocery stores.
The state of California is considering a bill AB-1276 to make single-use plastic cutlery available by request only across all restaurants in the state. This bill was directly inspired by the success of #CutOutCutlery in reducing single-use plastic waste in the City of Malibu in 2018. Other states are considering similar measures, including Massachusetts bill H.870, which tackles the distribution of unrequested single-use plastic and paper products in all food facilities.
If passed, these changes would substantially reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste we generate. In addition, restaurants in these states would be able to significantly reduce overhead costs, helping them recover from the losses endured due to the pandemic.
Here’s What You Can Do
Now that four major food delivery services have agreed to #CutOutCutlery’s changes and various bills are going into legislation across major cities, the campaign turns to university food services and major restaurant chains. The goal of #CutOutCutlery is for these businesses to provide individuals with an option to refuse single-use plastic cutlery and straws when they order food to go. To help individuals reduce their plastic waste, restaurants and organizations must stop providing single-use items by default.
You can help by sending a 1-click email to chains like Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Burger King asking them to join DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates and pledge to #CutOutCutlery. This means you won’t receive plastic cutlery unless you request it, so keep that default setting off next time you order with your favorite delivery app.
And when you order food to go directly from your favorite restaurant, always refuse single-use plastic utensils and packaging. Instead, request eco-friendly packaging — or better yet, bring your own container if the restaurant allows it. Always choose to reuse. Reusable cutlery — and other food-ware and packaging — is better for the environment and your wallet.
About the Author
Sheila Michail Morovati is the president and founder of nonprofits Habits of Waste and Crayon Collection. She spearheaded the historic ban of plastic straws, utensils, and stirrers in the City of Malibu and has been featured in Forbes, LA Times, HuffPost, and various regional broadcasts. Learn more at crayoncollection.org and habitsofwaste.org.
Feature image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash