California limits restaurants' giveaway of condiments and utensils

Beginning next June, operators can only provide packets of catsup, sweeteners or disposable forks upon request.
California ban on single-use items
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in California will be prohibited starting June 1 from providing packaged sweeteners, condiment packets or disposable utensils with a customer’s order unless those items are specifically requested by the patron, the result of a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The measure similarly bans operators from providing stirrers or chopsticks except upon request. Napkins can still be provided without prompting. Existing law already prohibits establishments from supplying a drinking straw unless a guest asks for one.

The new law in effect will require customers to request each covered item individually. It specifically outlaws grouping common to-go condiments and utensils into packets that can be dropped into a bag or placed on a tray if any one of the components is requested.

Restaurant employees at a drive-thru station can ask customers if they want a fork or other disposable utensil to be included in their orders, but the patrons have to answer affirmatively. Only sit-down or counter-service restaurants in public airports are permitted to check if patrons want the add-ons.

Self-service condiment or utensil-dispensing stations are permissible if the devices dispense one serving or item at a time. The law encourages but does not require operators to use bulk dispensers, in keeping with the measure’s intention of reducing litter and waste.

Other obligations are imposed on third-party delivery services. Those operations will be obliged starting June 1 to provide users of their apps and websites with a way of requesting utensils or condiments with their orders.

Violators will be issued a warning for their first and second infractions. A third violation will bring a fine of $25 per day, up to a total of $300 per year. The state law will be enforced by local and county officials.

AB 1276 was among the packet of environmental measures that Newsom signed into law Oct. 5. Also included in the group was a requirement that packaging manufacturers eliminate perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyls, potentially harmful substances commonly known as PFCs, from all disposable food containers.

Another bill sets benchmarks for determining if a product can be legitimately advertised as recyclable.

“California’s hallmark is solving problems through innovation, and we’re harnessing that spirit to reduce the waste filling our landfills and generating harmful pollutants driving the climate crisis,” Newsom said in a statement. “With today’s action and bold investments to transform our recycling systems, the state continues to lead the way to a more sustainable and resilient future for the planet and all our communities.”

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