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NYC Councilman Is Trying to Nix Plastic Forks and Knives

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A bill proposes finding alternatives for single-use plastic such as takeout cutlery

plastic cutlery, forks, knives, and spoons Kent Sievers/Shutterstock

Plastic forks and spoons may be the next target for elimination at New York restaurants if a Brooklyn councilman has his way. Councilman Rafael Espinal — the same man who proposed New York’s plastic straw ban — is now directing his efforts on eliminating single-use plastic such as disposable cutlery.

The bill, introduced on Wednesday, would force city agencies to “annually evaluate available alternatives for single-use plastic items.” It would be led by the Department of Consumer Affairs, with consultation from the Department of Sanitation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Health. If these agencies find environmentally friendly alternatives to specific items, then the plastic version would be banned.

It’s the latest proposal following a global effort to try and cut down on plastic usage. Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo also proposed a single-use plastic shopping bag ban, though takeout food bags were exempt from a 2018 bill. Espinal’s plastic straw bill followed a nationwide movement to reduce usage. And last fall, the European Union legalized a ban on most single-use plastics, including straws, plates, bags, and cutlery.

But even if this bill passes, it could take years for plastic cutlery to actually be eliminated. The bill’s proposed “evaluation” includes examining environmental feasibility, recycling capabilities of the city, “potential financial hardship for consumers,” and “economic feasibility” of alternatives. Only then will the city implement a ban for specific items.

The term “economic feasibility” has been subject to debate in the past. When the city banned styrofoam, it said that recycling the stuff was not economically or environmentally feasible. Restaurants and other industry sued in disagreement — and it took several more years and some back-and-forth in the courtroom before the ban was finalized.

Espinal represents parts of Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Crown Heights, Cypress Hills, and East New York. More than 90 percent of plastic ends up in landfills or as litter in the ocean. A new swell of support for banning plastic happened after a viral incident last April where a whale filled with more than 60 pounds of trash washed to the shore of Spain.