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Louisville approves weakened restaurant plastics legislation

The photo shows two foam takeout containers. One has food inside. Nearby, two plastic forks lay atop a paper napkin.
Creative Commons
The original proposal would have barred restaurants from giving customers single-use plastics unless they asked for it.

Louisville Metro Council passed a resolution late last week calling on city officials to help restaurants reduce their reliance on single-use plastics for takeout orders or ready to serve meals.

The resolution, which the council unanimously approved, encourages Metro’s Office of Sustainability to work with the Kentucky Restaurant Association on an education campaign. Supporters are also asking the office to tap into their ad budget to inform owners and customers of the environmental impact of single-use plastics. According to researchers, single-use food and drink containers are some of the plastics that most often end up in oceans.

District 25 Council Member Khalil Batshon, a Republican who owns a restaurant on Dixie Highway, said he thinks businesses' bottom lines will also motivate owners to refrain.

“A packet of single-plastic use with a napkin, a fork, a knife and a spoon costs me 15 cents,” Batshon said. “I’m going to do everything I can as a restaurant owner, to save everything I can save.”

Batshon was one of the sponsors of the resolution that ultimately passed. He was also the loudest voice in opposition to the original single-use plastics ordinance released in June.

In that version, Council Member Betsy Ruhe, a Democrat representing District 21, proposed a new regulation for Louisville restaurants: Owners would have to ask customers if they want condiments, plastic silverware or straws, instead of just putting them in the bag.

At a June 15 meeting of the Parks and Sustainability Committee, Ruhe said single-use plastics for takeout are “a cost burden on the restaurants” and a “significant source of waste for our society and our community.”

“One of the single most common pieces of litter on the street is a straw,” Ruhe said. “And you can run plastic forks and knives up with that, which are frequently not needed.”

Under Ruhe’s ordinance, restaurants who gave out single-use plastics without asking customers if they wanted them, or having customers request it, could have faced consequences from the Board of Health.

Batshon and other council members, however, said they didn’t think Louisville Metro should get in between customers and restaurant owners. They also expressed concern about overburdening health inspectors and code enforcement officers.

Stacy Roof, who heads the Kentucky Restaurant Association, also spoke in opposition to the proposed ordinance. She suggested Metro Council focus more on education than on regulating businesses.

“By and large, most every restaurant is already taking measures to minimize their costs while trying to execute very high customer service,” she said.

Roof argued that single-use plastics littering city streets was the fault of consumers who weren’t disposing of their trash properly, rather than the restaurants.

A majority of Metro Council members agreed with Batshon’s PSA-style approach over the regulatory one.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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