As of Jan. 1, businesses will have to ask customers before including plastic silverware or condiments in takeout orders, and packaged bundles of single-use items are banned. Local restaurants say it will take some time to adapt.
Kristine Johnson, head bartender at Kalama’s Playa Azul II, said it’s going to take an adjustment period.
“I suppose we’re not used to doing that and people will probably get upset that those things are not in there,” she said.
Country Folks Deli Owner Paige Espinoza said it’s “just another obstacle.”
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“We will have to ask everybody if they need plastic silverware,” she said. “There’s not really any other option.”
The change is the result of a new law meant to reduce waste and litter.
“Automatically including disposable silverware, straws and condiments with every order creates a huge amount of waste, much of which ends up littering our roads and damaging our environment,” Department of Ecology Solid Waste Program Manager Laurie Davies said in a press release. “This law nudges people to help reduce unnecessary waste.”
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Single-use food serviceware items covered by the new requirements include utensils like knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks; cocktail picks, splash sticks, and stirrers; straws; condiment packets, sachets or sauce cups; and cold cup lids, except those provided at drive-through windows or events with more than 2,500 people in attendance.
“Utensils may not be bundled or packaged in such a way that a customer is unable to take only the type of utensil desired without also taking a different type of utensil,” Ecology said in a press release. “Multiple items may not be wrapped together, like a fork, knife and napkin wrapped in plastic film.”
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Not included are plates, bowls, cups and other products used to contain food or beverages, lids for hot beverages, wrappers for takeout food items and any items provided by medical facilities like Meals on Wheels, hospitals, long-term care or hospice.
To get a single-use food serviceware item, customers will have to ask for it, say yes when asked by the business or pick up the item themselves from a self-serve station.
“Businesses can offer customers single-use items before a customer requests them,” according to Ecology, “but they may not automatically include single-use items in an order without verbal confirmation from the customer.”
That’s mean to combat the nearly one trillion single-use food service products that are disposed or littered each year in the United States, according to a 2021 Upstream report. Ecology said single-use food serviceware items are also a major contaminant in the state recycling system and that decreases the value of recycled materials.
“Reducing their use will protect the state’s rivers and streams, help the recycling system run more efficiently and contribute to a growing culture of waste reduction and reuse,” the Ecology press release said.
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Customers also are encouraged to bring their own “durable, reusable food serviceware items.”
“Ecology encourages people to explore sustainable options for reusable travel utensils, and develop habits that keep those items clean and available for use on the go,” the website said. “Most Washingtonians quickly adapted to the state’s plastic bag ban earlier this year, and now bring reusable bags when they head to the store.”
Ecology also said there were multiple cost-savings involved with the change, including broad environmental costs from natural resource extraction, climate impacts and plastic pollution, business costs to purchase and dispose of these items and taxpayer costs in solid waste management and litter clean-up.
Playa Azul II Head Bartender Johnson said as it’s been so busy, the restaurant had not yet created a plan for how to educate customers about the new rule. It’s the same at Country Folks Deli, owner Espinoza said.
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At the Backstage Café, owner Mike Julian said he wasn’t aware the law implementation date was coming up, but he didn’t anticipate a huge effect, as the café doesn’t do much takeout.