Supes to consider restaurant requirement aimed at curbing waste

Plastic utensils displayed by Manager Alex Perez at La Cocina Grill in Saugus, 012121. Dan Watson/The Signal

The COVID-19 crisis has trashed recycling efforts and instead generated an increase in plastic waste, according to a recent study, but Los Angeles County restaurants could soon be required to make adjustments related to disposable food ware in an effort to reduce waste. 

The majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not recycled, including food service ware, like straws and utensils because of their size, lack of labeling and possible food contamination, according to a January 2020 study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. 

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss a motion introduced by 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, an ordinance to require restaurants and other food-service providers to furnish disposable food ware only upon the request of customers. If approved, the motion would also require third-party, app-based delivery companies to include an option to affirmatively request plates and utensils. 

Restaurants have been ordered to halt in-person dining amid the pandemic, leaving businesses reliant on takeout and delivery services of their own or through app-based platforms. 

“Within the context of restaurant takeout and deliveries, many customers bring their orders home or have them delivered to their homes. In these cases, the accessories may not be needed by the customer, and as a result, may be discarded unused,” read the motion. “Limiting the distribution of unwanted accessory items is a straightforward solution to reducing plastic waste that will also result in cost savings to businesses.”

Some Santa Clarita Valley restaurant proprietors think the proposed requirement would be a smart idea, such as at La Cocina on Bouquet Canyon Road, while others have already implemented the move, including at Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co. on McBean Parkway. 

“I think it would be good to ask the client if they really need utensils or not, because I think a lot of people don’t need them because they go home. Some people even leave us notes saying they don’t need them,” said La Cocina chef Roberto Figueroa, who said the restaurant places the cost for disposable utensils at around $150 weekly. “I think it’ll be good for the environment but also help us save some money.”

For Wolf Creek co-owner Laina McFerren, the possibility of the county requirement would come at a bad time despite the benefits, she said. 

“It’s a pretty small cost relative to the overall cost of our takeout containers, and for those restaurants that are automatically putting it in there, it’s a pretty minimal cost,” she said. “I think the greater good clearly is the ecological good of not having the stuff wasted. And I support, in theory, that good. I just think the timing is terrible. Why aren’t they working on finding something to help us?”

If the motion is approved, the board is expected to receive a draft ordinance within 90 days thereafter. The Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 9:30 a.m. 

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