Cutting Out Plastic Cutlery Waste in Cary

Cary, NC — An unfortunate byproduct of restaurant takeout meals has been the amount of single-use plastics that are created and in turn, wasted.

That is, if people even use these pre-packaged utensils before they’re added to the landfill.

Wanting to send a message of awareness to businesses who dole out these single-use plastics, local environmentalist Kaley Cross decided to do something about it.

228 Pounds of Unused Cutlery in Cary

Cross is a 23-year-old graduate of NC State, now pursuing a Master’s of Sustainability from Lenoir Rhyne University. Working alongside the team at Toward Zero Waste as Director of Social Media & Marketing, she came up with an idea that would call attention to the issue while doing some good in the process.

Donations were accepted on Saturday, January 30 in front of the Green4Life store at Wavery Place and in a collection bin at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market. By the end of the collection period, Cross had taken in a staggering amount of unused cutlery.

“If one individual in Cary, NC was able to collect 228 pounds of unused single-use plastic cutlery in less than two-hours think about all the drawers, baskets, and bags full of unused take-out “extras” people are forced to hoard,” said Cross.

The utensil collected will now be used to benefit Food Not Bombs, a local organization that can hand out these utensils while distributing meals to folks in need. After this donation process, Cross says she’s ecstatic that more than 10,000 utensil packets will be used at least once before being added to the landfill.

Following the eye-opening collection, Leigh Williams, Co-founder of Toward Zero Waste said, “I was excited about her enthusiasm to pull this initiative together and get such an incredible response so quickly. She already knew there was a problem of people with drawers full of unwanted cutlery, and when she heard about Food Not Bombs needing cutlery, she created a solution.”

Now that the one-time collection is done, it begs the question — where does this issue go from here?

Calling on Restaurants to Look at Wasteful Habits

The collection was a great showing of individual action, but for a tangible difference to be made, it’s the restaurants around the world that need to step up, according to Cross.

Some of the comments Cross was told throughout the collection were:

“Restaurants could save so much money if they would stop handing these out.”

“These are from restaurants that I even requested no utensils.”

“I have been collecting these for years hoping to find something to do with them.”

“We need to share this with restaurants to show them how much waste they are potentially sending to the landfill.”

The “Opt-In” Solution

Online ordering from Crosstown Pub shows an option to add or opt-out of a variety of “Take-Out Extras,” including cutlery.

Restaurants can invoke change simply by adding an option to their to-go ordering processes that allow people to opt-in or opt-out of receiving cutlery, condiment packets and napkins.

“My hope is not so much for local individuals, but for local restaurants. I hope that they will realize that most of us don’t need this cutlery and they can save money and prevent waste by simply asking customers to opt-in. A great example of a local restaurant that has done this successfully is Crosstown Pub,” said Williams.

Organizations and individuals across the globe are making campaigns to bring this message to restaurants and popular delivery platforms such as Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub and Door Dash to simply install this added feature online.

“I hope businesses will see the story and realize how much their community simply doesn’t want this stuff,” said Cross, who says a survey conducted in the Triangle region found 87% of customers do not use the cutlery provided with their to-go meal.

For more information on the movements to #cutoutcutlery and #skipthestuff, get connected with Toward Zero Waste and their efforts to see less single-plastic waste in the world.

Story by Ashley Kairis. Photos courtesy of Kaley Cross, Toward Zero Waste and the Cary Downtown Farmers Market.

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5 replies
  1. Len NIeman
    Len NIeman says:

    The opt-in/out option sounds fine in theory, but it only works if the food service people filling the order pay attention to it. Since the pandemic hit, being in a high risk group, I order out on-line a lot. Many of the places I order from have an option for ‘no utensils/no napkins’, yet at least half the time when I select ‘No’ I receive them anyway. For this to work, there has to be a double check in place to make sure the order instructions are actually being followed.

    • Hannah Jung
      Hannah Jung says:

      I was just going to say the same thing. I always check no utensils and almost all the time I get them anyways.

  2. Barry Shafer
    Barry Shafer says:

    Len, I agree with you 100%!!! It seems like nobody ever reads special instructions on orders, as this has happened many times to me.

  3. Barry Shafer
    Barry Shafer says:

    Ashley, thank you for this great informational story. I never use plastic straws, utensils and condiments. I put that in the special instructions and more than 50% are still delivered to me.

Comments are closed.