🔵 Groups say restaurants should only give out plastic items when they're requested

🔵 A proposed state law did not get anywhere in 2023

🔵 Some spots have had this ban in place since before the pandemic

Restaurants and convenience stores should not automatically hand out plastic cutlery and single-use condiments with any takeout or delivery order.

That's the mindset behind a movement known as Skip the Stuff, which is already in place for all of New York City and is picking up steam in the Garden State.

In March, both Red Bank and Garwood approved ordinances that say items like a plastic spoon or packet of ketchup can only be given out by food establishments when a customer ordering the food offsite makes a specific request.

"If a person wants or needs ketchup or mustard or cutlery, then they merely need to ask for it," said Marta Young, zero waste specialist with Clean Water Action, the lead organization in the Skip the Stuff effort.

Many establishments give out these items unprompted, she said, and they end up in the trash or in a home's junk drawer.

"This campaign will save restaurants — depending on the size — thousands of dollars, and it will help customers and the environment all at the same time," Young said.

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A number of estimates suggest that people in the U.S. use 40 billion pieces of single-use plastic cutlery per year. That estimate has grown exponentially over the past decade.

State rule vs. local rule

A proposal to make Skip the Stuff a statewide law was introduced in New Jersey in March 2023 by Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, but it never moved. The measure also noted that if a customer were to make a request for a condiment or cutlery, only those specific items could be distributed.

There is no such bill in the New Jersey Legislature currently. Young is optimistic that a new version will be introduced but said the focus right now is to get individual municipalities to make the move — similar to the movement that eventually led to a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at store checkout counters.

Red Bank instituted the rule by weaving it into the bag ban instituted by the municipality in 2019. Maplewood and Stone Harbor included the restriction in their bag bans years ago.

Amanda Stone, government affairs director for the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said the group supports allowing municipalities to make their own rules on this issue, over a statewide restriction. Ideally, she said, there would be no mandate — it would be more beneficial to educate establishments on the benefits of incorporating sustainability practices.

"Restaurant owners and operators have focused on implementing procedures to not only reduce food waste but also increase sustainability in their businesses for decades, with many making changes prior to any mandates," Stone said. "For example, numerous restaurants removed plastic straws and single-use plastic bags from their businesses long before the recent state ban was signed into law."

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