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Want plastic utensils in that takeout order? You’ll have to ask

An ordinance that passed the City Council Tuesday says restaurants can’t include single-use utensils unless customers request them. The Council also OK’d new guidelines for some city contracts and added new concessions at O’Hare Airport.

Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
Chicago aldermen at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago took a small step Tuesday to stop the tsunami of plastic caused by the increase in takeout and home-delivered restaurant meals triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council approved a watered-down ordinance prohibiting Chicago restaurants from distributing “single-use foodware” unless customers request it.

Everything from plastic silverware, chopsticks, wipes and condiments to salt, pepper and napkins no longer would be automatically included in takeout or delivery orders.

Compliance would be voluntary. Drive-through restaurants and airport concessionaires would be exempt.

The proposed ban also does not cover plastic straws, beverage lids, sleeves for hot coffee and tea and “single-use foodware pre-packaged or attached to food or beverage products by the manufacturer,” under the ordinance.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has reluctantly agreed to swallow the ordinance because restaurants still struggling to recoup pandemic-related losses would not be fined for defying the ban.

The ordinance is far more narrow than the plastic pollution ban championed by Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) because it does not include penalties and would not ban foam containers used for sandwiches and other carry-out meals.

Even so, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather Restaurants, couldn’t resist the temptation to chide his colleagues for the baby step they were taking.

“The biggest problem is, everyone’s getting their food delivered to begin with. So what about the emissions? What about the congestion? I mean, this is so much bigger than this,” Tunney said.

“We’ve got work to do on the environment. But this is an incremental approach. You’re going after the small stuff. … This is a minor issue in the right direction. … We are an embarrassment when it comes to the environment. I’m not worried about plastic. I’m worried about fossil fuels. I’m worried about people not caring about all the conveniences of getting them to their front door. Why don’t you walk to the grocery store? It’s ridiculous what’s going on here.”

Tuesday’s action-packed meeting was the first since the traditional August recess. It also featured final approval of:

• Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to extend Chicago’s construction set-aside program for six years and relax its eligibility requirements to include more minorities and women.

• Concession agreements that will give travelers flying in and out of O’Hare Airport a whole new world of quick, touchless, around-the-clock shopping choices and redefine airport vending machines.

• A beefed-up disclosure ordinance that will require banks holding Chicago tax dollars or vying to become municipal depositories to come more clean than ever about their lending practices.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Lightfoot proposed a new round of changes to Chicago’s plumbing code and appointed Luis Gutierrez, of the nonprofit Latinos Progresando, to the Chicago Housing Authority board. He replaces Craig Chico, who resigned. His term would have expired in 2025.

This story has been changed from an earlier online version to correct the title of Luis Gutierrez.