Would you like forks with that? Law aiming to reduce single-use plastics goes into effect Jan. 1

<p><p>It’s not a ban on plastic forks, just a restriction. And it’s one of several in the state’s efforts to becoming less littered.</p></p><p><p>A law passed by the Washington Legislature earlier this year will ask food businesses to include utensils, straws and condiment packages only upon customer request.</p></p><p><p>This restriction is part of the larger bill targeting plastic pollution in Washington, said Shannon Jones, materials management coordinator with the state Department of Ecology.</p></p><p><p>“It’s important for people to remember this is not a ban,” Jones said. “Hopefully it encourages people to think about their impact and maybe consider making switches to more durable products.”</p></p><p><p>Forks, knives and spoons, as well as condiment packaging and cold cup lids, are included in this new restriction. Utensil bundling is banned. Straws are already restricted due to a <a href=”https://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Senate” target=”_blank”>bill that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020</a>.</p></p><p><p>Drive-thru restaurants get an exemption for cold cup lids, but will have to comply with the other parts of the law around cutlery and condiment packaging.</p></p><p><p>Health care facilities, schools and need-based home delivery options like Meals on Wheels are not included, Jones said.</p></p><p><p>“It’s not intended to make life harder, especially since there are people relying on those materials,” Jones said.</p></p><p><p>This legislation follows another bill that went into effect Oct. 1, in which customers statewide saw an 8-cent charge for most disposable grocery bags as a way to encourage people to bring their own.</p></p><p><p>Food services have some leeway in how they approach the law, but repeated noncompliance could result in a fine, Jones said.</p></p><p><p>Some restaurants may choose to offer utensils or condiments to the customer directly, while others may wait for the customer to ask. Some might also invest in a self-service station, Jones said, “to avoid that interaction altogether.”</p></p><p><p>Online food delivery apps also have to comply, according to the bill’s text. Jones said the law encourages these services to add a feature for customers to choose which utensils they want with their order.</p></p><p><p>Patrick Teegan, Spokane’s Aloha Island Grill owner, said he has considered a sign telling customers “utensils provided upon request.” Easy-to-read signage, he said, would be in compliance without requiring any extra training on his staff’s part.</p></p><p><p>“As an owner and a customer of other places, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal,” Teegan said.</p></p><p><p>Cochinito’s Taqueria on Post Street has for years followed the ask-or-wait method for utensils, said owner, Travis Dickinson.</p></p><p><p>Dickinson said Cochinito’s also offers only compostable single-use utensils, but the eco-friendly choice costs about four times more.</p></p><p><p>Encouraging customers to reuse or bring their own utensil is more business-friendly than asking restaurants to spend more on biodegradable packaging, Dickinson said.</p></p><p><p>“It’s a big financial step for some places, especially smaller businesses,” Dickinson said.</p></p><p><p>The law comes as plastic consumption and pollution in the United States rose last year, <a href=”https://upstreamsolutions.org/blog/reuse-wins-report” target=”_blank”>according to a 2021 Reuse Wins report from Upstream Solutions</a>.</p></p><p><p>The Reuse Wins report estimated the pandemic caused a 250 to 300% increase in plastic consumption, as many customers supported their favorite restaurants through takeout and delivery.</p></p><p><p>Brian Henning, Gonzaga University environmental sciences professor and director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment, said alternatives to plastic utensils would help curb this growing waste.</p></p><p><p><a href=”https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts” target=”_blank”>Plastic Oceans, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, estimated 50%</a> of plastic is made to be used once and then thrown away.</p></p><p><p>“We pump the oil out of the ground, we refine it, all to make a product that will be used one time,” Henning said. “It’s a strange system we’ve designed for ourselves.”</p></p><p><p>Most disposable food packaging ends up in a landfill. Much of it – about 20 billion pieces – ends up in the oceans, according to the Reuse Wins report.</p></p><p><p>The effects of plastic bans could be substantial. If every food service business in the country got rid of single-use plastic, the Reuse Wins report estimated it could keep about 17 billion pieces of litter out of the ocean each year.</p></p><p><p>“Strawless in Seattle” was the campaign in front of Seattle’s historic ban on single-use straws that went into effect in 2018. The campaign <a href=”https://www.strawlessocean.org/seattle” target=”_blank”>estimated that in just one month, September 2017, the city saw 2.3 million fewer plastic straws</a> and suggested the plastic straw ban was the reason.</p></p><p><p>Parts of the law passed this year focus on reducing how much plastic is made, not just consumed. Starting in January 2023, many beverage containers, trash bags and household cleaning supply bottles will have to have a progressively higher amount of post-consumer recycled content.</p></p><p><p>“What that does is create a market for the items we want to recycle,” Henning said. “As soon as we put producer responsibility in the law, manufacturers will have an incentive they don’t have now.”</p></p><p><p>Greg Gordon, Gonzaga University’s environmental studies chair, said he believed this approach is one of the most effective ways to address waste and litter.</p></p><p><p>“Putting that responsibility back on the producers leads to a significant reduction in excess packaging,” Gordon said. “If you think about it, we’re drowning in excess packaging, like do we really need layers on layers of plastic to wrap one thing? … We’re all a part of it, but there are so many of us that nothing will get done unless we mutually agree upon it.”</p></p><p><p>Food services nationally spend $24 billion on disposable items like cutlery and packaging, according to the Reuse Wins report.</p></p><p><p>Teegan said the cost saved from not having to buy as much plastic will likely not be “material,” but will still have an effect.</p></p><p><p>“It saves consumers in the long run, it saves businesses economically,” Gordon said.</p></p><p><p>The <a href=”https://static.spokanecity.org/documents/bcc/committees/public-infrastructure-environment-sustainability/sustainability-action-subcommittee/spokane-sustainability-action-plan-draft-2021-04-09.pdf” target=”_blank”>city of Spokane on Oct. 25 passed an 84-page Sustainability Action Plan</a>, which outlined goals for greener transportation, conversion to renewable energy and waste diversion efforts, to name a few.</p></p><p><p>“Behaviorally, it’s encouraging us to really think more sustainably and begin this process of addressing our consumptive, materialistic lifestyle,” Gordon said.</p></p>