If passed, the ‘Skip the Stuff’ bill would prohibit restaurants from providing plastic utensils, napkins and condiments, unless the customer requests them.

Jeanmarie Evelly

A new bill dictates that NYC restaurants would be allowed to distribute disposable cutlery only at the customer’s request—or risk facing a fine.

City residents who want their food delivery or takeout with a side of napkins, utensils or condiments may soon need to request them, if a proposed measure passes the New York City Council. 

The “Skip the Stuff” bill (Intro. 1775), sponsored by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, is the latest in a series of state and local legislative measures to reduce single-use plastics, joining an earlier and controversial ban on plastic bags last year, as well as similar measure on plastic straws which goes into effect next month.

The bill dictates that restaurants would be allowed to distribute disposable cutlery only at the customer’s request—or risk facing a fine. A restaurant found to be in violation would receive a warning from on the first offense. After that, the fines range from $100 on the first violation to $300 on the third and each subsequent violation.

The bill was introduced in October 2019, and Councilmember Van Bramer said he’s aiming  to pass it before this legislative session ends at the end of the year, when he’ll also leave office because of term limits. This week he penned an editorial in the New York Daily News touting the legislation’s cost-saving and environmental benefits.

“I wanted to save the restaurants the expense of buying all this plastic that most people don’t use, and at the same time address the enormous waste involved that negatively impacts the environment,” he told City Limits. “People can still get the plastic silverware if they ask for it under our bill, so this is a win for everyone involved.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, spoke in favor of the legislation. 

“Reducing single use plastic utensils is good for the environment and saves restaurants money,” he told City Limits. He added that giving restaurants a warning on the first offense was an important stipulation in the bill. 

“Ultimately, this will save businesses money and we want them to know that,” said Van Bramer. 

In 2019, the World Wildlife Fund reported that phasing out single-use plastics globally would lower the demand for plastic by up to 40 percent in the next decade. But multiple studies have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in single-use plastics, from more frequent use of personal protective equipment and online restaurant deliveries.  

New York has previously taken measures to reduce plastic waste, including a 2019 executive order restricting city agencies from purchasing single-use plastic foodware and a statewide ban on plastic bags, which went into effect one year ago. In May, the Council passed a measure banning plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks unless the customer requests one — an exception made to accommodate individuals with disabilities. That rule is set to go into effect Nov. 1.

Liz Donovan is a Report for America corps member.