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Cupertino’s New Single-Use Plastics Ordinance

Hand holding a recycling garbage bin with lots of waste packaging

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, an ordinance aimed at reducing the usage of single-use plastics went into effect in Cupertino, mandating that cafes, restaurants and other food and beverage providers use “fiber-based” foodware made from sustainable materials.

The increasing discovery of plastics and microplastics in the ocean, air, soil, animals and even humans is an escalating environmental concern. Plastic waste accumulates because it does not biodegrade. Moreover, plastics leach harmful chemicals into the food and beverages we ingest daily. Recycling efforts have proven challenging, too—the small percentage of plastics that do get recycled are often turned into non-recyclable products like fleece or composite wood. 

Plastic production itself pollutes the surrounding air and water, impacting human health. While many plastic products are essential, single-use plastics, in particular, are problematic. Items like plastic utensils are used briefly before being discarded into landfills, yet their environmental impact lingers. Although some plastic products are essential and even life-saving, humans can reduce or eliminate many single-use plastics without impacting their quality of life.

In 2021, Cupertino’s Environmental Program division partnered with a consultant to discern thoughts from local restaurants and customers on single-use foodware items before drafting the ordinance. Of the 111 residents surveyed about expanding the City’s plastic ban, 91 percent expressed concern about single-use plastic waste and fully supported businesses implementing more environmentally friendly alternatives. Business owners were typically concerned about the cost of plastic alternatives and the continuance of specific business operations, such as the heat-sealing process for the plastic lid of a bubble tea cup.

However, food facilities survey results revealed that costs were identical to current spending. With technical assistance to help offset increased fees, these managers would also widely support a foodware ordinance.

To ease the transition, businesses can apply for a temporary exemption to the ordinance for reasons such as financial hardships, difficulties with unique packaging hardships or requiring extra time to comply with the expanded ban.

For customers, there are many ways to support local businesses through this transition:

  1. Request disposable items such as straws and napkins only when genuinely needed, and if you are eating at home, ensure that you use your own utensils.
  2. Bring a reusable cup or container for to-go orders or taking home leftovers. This is especially necessary for restaurants with unique packaging, like boba tea shops. If a business does not already allow you to bring your own reusables, encourage them to!
  3. Make sure your favorite food facilities comply with the ordinance. Let the City of Cupertino know if they are not by reporting it through the City’s 311 reporting system at

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Sania Mehta
Sania Mehta, Editor-In-Chief

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