I rarely do takeaway from restaurants, as I don’t like the amount of unwanted items I’m left with. Between the plastic bag, the napkins, the condiments and the plastic cutlery I didn’t ask for, I have too many things I then have to discard. Unlike refillable and reusable food ware, single-use plastics consume a huge amount of energy, water and natural resources to serve a customer for just a few minutes. Plastic utensils will eventually end up in a landfill — or worse, in the streets or water streams if poorly handled. 

Many others are apparently bothered, too, as Prince George’s County passed a bill, effective June 1, regulating the distribution of single-use food ware accessories and standard condiments (County Bill 014-2022). Full-service and fast-food restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, supermarkets and other eateries can now only provide single-use items upon request or at self-serve stations. These single-use items include straws, utensils, condiment cups and packets, cup sleeves, splash sticks, stirrers and napkins. The regulation would apply to both takeout and delivery. The use of plastic utensils by restaurants soared during the pandemic. And because disposable plastic ware is often cheaper than the alternatives, many restaurants have continued to provide them. 

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Less plastic will improve our health and help keep our waterways clean and safe.
Photo credit: Juliette Fradin Photography

Besides the single-use food ware bill, there’s more good news for our flora and fauna in the county (and beyond): On May 30, the county council voted unanimously in favor of the Better Bag Bill, which bans the use of plastic bags and adds a 10-cent fee on paper bags. 

In a May submission to The Bowie Banner, Prince George’s County Sierra Club Chair Martha Ainsworth wrote, “Prince Georgians use an estimated 353 million plastic bags annually.” The 10-cent fee on paper bags is to prevent shoppers from substituting one type of single-use waste with another. Paper bags still require the use of a lot of resources like trees, water and fuel and have an impact on our health and overall pollution. If not correctly composted or recycled, paper bags take up more space in landfills than plastic ones and will take years to decompose. Some store chains, like Aldi or Lidl, have already abandoned plastic carryout bags and charge 5 to 25 cents to offset costs and discourage their use. 

Montgomery County, Laurel and Takoma Park are among the local jurisdictions that have laws prohibiting the use of plastic bags. Hyattsville thought of implementing a similar ban, but at the Dec. 19, 2022, Hyattsville City Council meeting, Councilmember Joanne Waszczack (Ward 1), who supports the initiative, recommended waiting for the upcoming county legislation. College Park recently proposed a better bag ordinance that will go into effect on Sept. 1. 

When approved, pending proposed amendments, the county bill will become law on Jan. 1, 2024. In the meantime, remember that no plastic bags are allowed in your recycling bins. This prohibition includes bread bags, cereal bags, fruit and vegetable bags (fresh or frozen), pasta and snack bags, garden product bags, newspaper bags and dry-cleaning bags; the outer wrap of paper towels, napkins and diapers; and bubble and cling wrap. Instead, many of these bags and wrappings can be returned to bins at local grocery stores.

The U.S. Interior Department has stated that by 2032, single-use plastic products will be phased out of national parks and some public lands.

Ultimately, the single use of any bag is the worst possible choice for the environment. The key to reducing your environmental impact and saving money is to use whatever bags you have around the house (plastic, paper, cloth) as many times and in as many ways as possible. For more inspiration, see my March 2022 column for other ways to limit single-use plastics.