The “Plastic-Free Water” ordinance championed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) would give restaurants and carryout joints until Jan. 1, 2021 to stop serving food in the polystyrene containers commonly used by small neighborhood restaurants or for to-go orders. Instead, restaurants must use reusable dishes for dine-in orders and recyclable or compostable containers for to-go food.
Restaurants that aren’t able to wash dishes or contract out that work can request a full or partial waiver under the ordinance. Additionally, restaurants would have to cut back on disposable foodware items like plastic eating utensils by providing them only by request or at a self-service station. Plastic drinking straws will also be available when specifically requested. That exception was made at the request of Access Living to accommodate customers with disabilities who “need plastic straws to live,” the sponsors said.
Customers would also be allowed to bring their own reusable cups when dining. Restaurants could offer reusable cups for dining-in and disposable cups with lids, spill plugs or sleeves for delivery or take-out service. Jen Walling, president of the Illinois Environmental Council, hailed the proposed ordinance as the “strongest ordinance in the Midwest” and a “mirror” of some of the strongest ordinances in the country. “We know that the plastic pollution is a problem in communities across Illinois. And our hope as the Illinois Environmental Council is that the city demonstrating leadership on this issue can motivate the state legislature to pass similar legislation protecting the entire state,” Walling said.
But Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia argued the ordinance would impose a severe hardship on restaurants already forced to endure a host of increased costs. They include a higher minimum wage, an increased restaurant tax, paid sick leave, a ban on plastic bags that was ultimately replaced by a bag tax, a predictable scheduling ordinance and higher property taxes. “There’s a lot of anxiety out there with these small-business owners. A lot of education and communication needs to go on on both sides to see if we can get to a middle and not kill the quick-service, small restaurants that are the backbone of our 77 neighborhoods,” Toia said.