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Though it may seem like just one fork and one knife, the lifecycle of plastic cutlery goes far beyond the minutes it takes to eat your food. It’s estimated that 40 billion pieces of “disposable” plastic cutlery end up as waste every year. Moreover, the plastic pollution crisis is also a climate crisis hiding in plain sight. So, what happens when you start saying no to plastic cutlery?

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1: Consumers reduce demand for plastic cutlery

According to MarketWatch, delivery apps like GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber Eats and others saw dramatic increases in delivery orders during the pandemic. For one delivery app, its 543 million total orders for the first 9 months of 2020 were triple the number of orders in the prior year.

Imagine if just half of take-out-ordering customers said no to plastic cutlery. That could have meant 271 million sets of plasticware diverted from our waste streams.

2: Restaurants order less plastic cutlery

With more people like you choosing not to use plastic cutlery, restaurants will give out less. When restaurants see they have a surplus of plastic cutlery, they reduce the amount they order. With a reduced demand, restaurants may also opt to source a more Earth-friendly option, such as compostable bamboo cutlery. (More demand for these options can make them cheaper, too.)

Two reusable bags sit on a shelf.

3: When demand for plastic cutlery decreases, plastic production decreases

When we refuse plastic, it drives down demand for chemicals needed for plastic production. Remember how petroleum demand plummeted because people across the globe were no longer driving cars as much during the early days of quarantine? We can make the same impact with plastic.

4: Less plastic production means fewer Earth-warming chemicals

More than 99% of plastics are manufactured from petrochemicals like petroleum and natural gas—chemicals that yield gasses that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Published research indicates that across their lifecycle, single-use plastics account for 3.8% of heat-trapping gas emissions. (That’s almost twice the amount of heat-trapping gas emissions of our world’s aviation industry!) Reducing the growing demand for plastic materials from 4% to 2% could result in 60% lower emissions by 2050, according to that same study.

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5: Fewer Earth-warming chemicals can prevent the progression of climate change

Burning fewer fossil fuels to meet the demand for plastic can help the U.S. come closer to the climate goals established by the Paris Agreement, which seeks to keep annual global warming below 2 degrees Celsius or use less than 3.6 trillion tons of heat-trapping gasses.

Saying no to plastic cutlery from your favorite restaurants might feel like a small action but, if we make that change together, it can make a world of difference.

The next time you get food to-go:

  • say no thanks to cutlery with your order
  • use your own cutlery when dining at home
  • BYO cutlery when getting carryout and eating outdoors
  • Join the #CutOutCutlery movement today and ask delivery platforms to give opt-out options