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County law sees restaurants fined for including common items in takeout meals: 'Make sure you don't have the things that you don't want'

"What we are really trying to do is kill that drawer that we all have in our houses…"

"What we are really trying to do is kill that drawer that we all have in our houses..."

Photo Credit: iStock

Prince George's County in Maryland introduced a new law that requires restaurants to only provide single-use utensils if customers ask for them.

It's a welcome policy that should help to decrease demand for disposable plastic items, prevent littering, and save restaurants money.

From Aug. 1, restaurants were told to avoid the items — which are significant contributors to a variety of pollution — and takeaway apps were told that options were required so customers could select utensils should they need them.

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While restaurants were given time to get used to the law, any restaurant found to be in violation of the policy was to be issued a $250 fine upon a second warning from Oct. 1. The penalty climbs to $500 for any additional infraction.

"Do you need a fork to eat this, do you need napkins, do you need a straw, do you want some ketchup, do you want some sauces?" Prince George's County Department of the Environment director Andrea Crooms asked, per ABC 7 News. 

"To make sure that you have all the right things when you leave, but to make sure you don't have the things that you don't want. So what we are really trying to do is kill that drawer that we all have in our houses, that drawer of doom where we always put the plastic utensils but very seldom ever go back and take them out."

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around half of all the plastic produced is for single-use purposes.

Plastic is typically made from dirty fuels, which need to be extracted from the earth and cause planet-warming pollution when burned in the production process. Meanwhile, the chemicals found in these fuels can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Single-use plastic is typically thrown away after use. While some items can be recycled, the UN reports that only 10% of the seven billion tons of plastic waste ever produced has been through this process. 

The rest goes to landfill sites — where it will contribute to the production of the planet-warming gas methane, which can be as much as 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of warming potential — or will likely be littered. 

Plastic waste can make its way to water sources such as rivers and oceans, where it can leach toxic chemicals into the water supply and be eaten by marine animals, leading to suffocation or stomach blockages that can be deadly. 

Since plastic does not degrade naturally, it erodes over time, resulting in microplastics that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. These can enter the bodies of marine animals and even make it to humans through consumption later along the food chain. They've even been found in the air.

While the health effects of microplastics haven't been fully determined, they have been found in lungs, livers, spleens, and kidneys, and they have also been detected in the placentae of pregnant people. 

These are just a few reasons why reducing plastic pollution is so important to the health of the planet and its inhabitants — and the new law introduced by Prince George's County is an example for other localities to follow.

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