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No more plastic utensils in Denver, unless you request them

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DENVER — Make sure you have a fork and knife handy if you’re ordering takeout.

A new ordinance approved by the Denver City Council makes it so restaurants and third-party delivery services (e.g. Postmates and Uber Eats) can only provide single-use items like utensils and condiments if a customer explicitly asks for them.

The ordinance, referred to as #SkipTheStuff, was approved last spring and went into effect this month. Winna MacLaren with Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency told Rocky Mountain PBS that the city has been experiencing “lengthy printing delays” for the materials that will be sent to restaurants and businesses, but that many places have already received emails alerting them to the new rules.

Businesses that do not comply with the ordinance will be issued a warning. After that, they could be fined up to $999.

“This is a simple and effective way to reduce our collective waste,” said Grace Rink, Denver’s chief climate officer, in a news release. “Businesses can save money on single-use items by only providing what is requested, and customers will no longer need to landfill items when they use their own silverware, spices or condiments at home.”

According to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled in the U.S. And plastic production is on the rise. One recent study found that more plastic has been produced in the past 20 years than in the entire second half of the 20th century.

While waste reduction is a worldwide issue, Colorado has set some local goals—and it's failing to reach them. According to a report published at the end of 2021, “Colorado’s statewide recycling and composting rate was just 15%, which is less than half the national recycling and composting rate of 32%. The recycling rate for plastics was even worse than the state average, with only 9% of plastic containers and packaging recycled statewide. In total, Coloradans buried over 5,900,000 tons of materials in the state’s landfills in 2020.”

Denver’s new #SkipTheStuff ordinance is similar to policies in place in many other cities, most of them in California.

The ordinance joins two other pieces of legislation that have a goal of reducing plastic waste: last year, Denver implemented a $0.10 charge for every disposable bag—paper or plastic—shoppers use at places like grocery stores and retailers. That $0.10 fee will expand statewide in 2023.

Finally, in 2024, all single-use plastic bags will be banned in Colorado, and restaurants will not be permitted to use Styrofoam. There are some exceptions.

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