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Don’t Throw Away Your Takeout Utensils! They Can Help Feed People Who Are Hungry

A blue tilt truck filled with condiments and plastic utensils sits in a parking lot, leaning up against one of the barriers. In the background there is a sign that reads "The City of Los Angeles is taking on Plastic Pollution."
Last time the city collected utensil and condiment donations, they collected 2500 pounds of the items.
(Courtesy of LA Sanitation & Environment)
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Do you have one of those drawers, full of utensils and condiments gathered from your many takeout orders over the course of the pandemic? (Surely I’m not the only one…)

Don’t just throw them away. Turns out, you can actually donate them.

Don’t Throw Away Your Takeout Utensils! They Can Help Feed People Who Are Hungry

“We have a lot of shelters and other programs in Los Angeles designed to assist those who are less fortunate,” explained L.A. Sanitation & Environment assistant division manager Jennifer Pinkerton, who heads up city facilities recycling, zero waste, and donation programs. “And some of these facilities — missions, shelters — don’t have dishwashing facilities.”

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Instead, she says, they use disposable foodware.

So your drawer of unused utensils (still in their plastic wrappers) and their need for disposable utensils could be the perfect match.

Last year, L.A. San held a donation drive for these items. According to Pinkerton, the department collected 2,500 pounds.

I weighed a set of utensils from my own collection and it weighed less than an ounce, so imagine how many of those it would take to weigh a ton (literally).

One of the organizations that received these utensils was St. Francis Center on Hope Street, right by where the 110 and 10 freeways meet.

The center, which provides hot meals, to go lunches, produce, and pantry service to people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity, received more than 9,000 items from LA San's drive.

Executive director Jasmine Bravo says they serve meals to about 150 people every day, and distributed the donated condiments and unopened plastic utensils with these meals. The donations were enough to last more than 12 weeks.

As a result, the center was able to redirect the money they would've had to spend on condiments and pricier, compostable utensils back into the food relief efforts.

"We're saving about $9,000, which is really wonderful – huge savings – and that goes back into the community in the form of food," Bravo estimated.

A sign hangs on an outdoor wall reading “LA Environment Sanitation City of Los Angeles zero waste zero wasted water DONATION DRIVE” on one side and “Condiments and Utensils Drive September 13 - October 29, 2021” on the other. Next to it are 3 green bins that say “NO TRASH” where you can drop your donations.
The Condiment and Utensils drive is just one of several donation drives LA San hosts throughout the year.
(Carla Javier
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Pinkerton says the department will hold another collection drive for the utensils and condiments starting in late August and going through late October of this year. (There are other drives to participate in in the meantime, though, including the current non-perishable food drive that goes through March 4, and future collections of clothing, toiletries, used toys, blankets, and socks.)

But if you gotta get rid of your utensils and condiments now, Pinkerton suggested calling up a local shelter, and seeing if they will take donations. Bravo says her organization, St. Francis Center, would gratefully accept any drawers of unopened utensils and condiments you bring by their location on Hope Street, for example.

If not, Pinkerton said you can also drop them off at the L.A. Public Works Building security desk (149 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, open Monday - Friday, except for holidays), or mail them to the following address, provided by Pinkerton:

1149 S. Broadway, 5th Floor
MS 944
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Also, it should be easier to reduce your plastic utensil collection in the future. Now, restaurants are only supposed to give you plastic ware if you specifically ask for it, thanks to a new-ish city ordinance.