Forest Park’s Village Council voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance requiring restaurants to ask customers taking their food to go if they want plastic utensils with their order instead of just including them by default.
Commissioner Jessica Voogd has been working on the ordinance since October 2022, but it didn’t go before the village council until April 10. The new ordinance will take effect on July 1. The ordinance doesn’t include any penalties, and Voogd said it wasn’t meant to be punitive, but to create a legal justification restaurants can point their customers to.
Commissioner Maria Maxham cast the only “no” vote. She emphasized that she supported the intent behind the ordinance but felt the village should take more time to get a buy-in from residents and businesses. Voogd responded that, over the last five months, she reached out to all the businesses that might be affected to give them a chance to respond and noted that she brought the ordinance up during multiple village council meetings.
The village municipal code was previously silent on the issue. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants could only offer carry-out meals, which brought the concerns about plastic utensils to the forefront.
Last June River Forest’s village board approved an ordinance requiring restaurants to only offer utensils if the customers ask for them. Voogd said she took cues from that ordinance.
The Forest Park ordinance requires restaurants to provide plastic utensils upon request and/or at a self-service station. Drive-thrus are exempt from this requirement, and so are food pantries and other charities. The village will also be able to exempt eateries on a case-by-case basis.
Out of the nine Forest Park eateries which took the village’s online survey, 60% said they would support the ordinance, 20% opposed it and 20% indicated they would support it if it ended up saving them money.
Maxham emphasized that she “fully, 100% support[s] the reduction of plastics,” describing the practice of handing out such utensils whether needed or not as wasteful. But she pointed to a small sample size of the survey, arguing that it shows the village hasn’t done a good enough job reaching out to businesses. Maxham also said the village should do more outreach to residents to educate them about the benefits of the change before approving anything.
“I think there should be buy-in and collaboration without imposing it on people,” she said. “I would also like to hear from residents, because I think education and outreach should happen before the change.”
Maxham noted the ordinance didn’t include any penalties, and wondered why it wasn’t a proclamation instead.
“I think it is the right thing to do — I’m not convinced that this is the right way to do it,” she said.
Voogd responded by comparing the ordinance to mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic – having something on the books made the mandates easier to enforce.
“I know a lot of businesses appreciate having something to point to — this isn’t me; these are just rules in town,” she said.
As far as the outreach, Voogd said every affected business had a chance to respond. As for the outreach to residents, she said the almost three months between April 10 and the effective date will give the village opportunity to do that.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes said that, while it was a “tough topic,” he agreed that having restaurants provide utensils made no sense, especially since many people who get takeout simply bring it home. As for the outreach, he argued that Voogd has done plenty.
“I know Commissioner Voogd has been [talking about the topic] since probably late October, and I know she had a couple of meetings with people,” Byrnes said.
“One spork at a time,” quipped Commissioner Ryan Nero.
“One spork at a time,” responded Voogd.