Takeout will soon only come with plastic utensils and ketchup packages if you request them

Denver City Council passed a bill making this a requirement for restaurants and third-party food vendors.
3 min. read
Julian Rai drops off a Grubhub order on a Friday evening. March 13, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Getting forks, spoons and condiment packages from that new place you've been meaning to try will soon only happen if you specifically request them.

Denver City Council on Monday passed a bill requiring restaurants and third-party delivery vendors like Grubhub and Postmates to offer plastic utensils and condiments packages for both deliveries and take-out food orders only when people ask for them.

The bill doesn't just cover extra forks. It includes things like chopsticks, napkins, straws, stirrers and cocktail sticks, as well as single-use condiment packets, like ketchup or soy sauce. It will apply for orders made in-person, online or by phone.

Councilmember Kendra Black was the bill's primary sponsor. She wants everyone to avoid having a drawer full of extra ketchup packages and utensils, items she said will end up in the trash anyway. She hopes her bill will ultimately lead to less plastic piling up at landfills.

It will be up to the city's Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency to create rules based on the new law, Black said. She didn't have a timeline for that process, though she hopes the rule come by this year. Grace Rink, executive director of the climate office, said over email that barring any unforeseen circumstances, the new rules will be ready by early 2022.

Food delivery skyrocketed during the pandemic as restaurants and other eateries were required to close. But Black noted that spike led to an increase in single-use plastics (in other words, plastic you only use once and almost immediately throw away). She hopes her bill will help cut this back significantly.

"It's a win-win for everyone," Black said. "(It's) good for the environment, good for restaurants, good for customers."

The new law won't ban anything. You'll still be able to get plastic utensils or napkins if you go to McDonald's or Chipotle, for example, and restaurants will still be able to provide more stuff for your condiment drawer if you request it. And there will be some exemptions for places like hotel room service or meals provided by schools or shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

Denise Mickelsen, communications director for the Colorado Restaurant Association, said over email that results from the association's January 2021 restaurant impact survey showed 80 percent of all restaurants use single-use utensils or bags. Mickelsen added restaurants in Colorado reported 30 percent of their sales were coming from takeout and delivery at the end of 2020, compared to 15 percent before the pandemic. The association did not take a formal position on the bill.

"What's most important to us is that restaurants continue to have the ability to offer single-use plastic implements to customers rather than being strictly limited to waiting for customers to make the request," Mickelsen said. "The ordinance as currently drafted addresses those concerns."

Black said the new law may actually help local restaurants, because it will save them money from having to buy more materials for take-out and deliveries. She added most people who order out don't want utensils because they already have them at home.

Once the rules are made, Black said there will be additional outreach to restaurants to ensure they comply with the new rules. The bill had no opposition when it was heard at a city council committee last month, before it was brought before the full council.

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