Washington state restriction on plastic utensils starts Jan. 1 

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Beginning Jan. 1, restaurants and other food service establishments will no longer be able to automatically provide single-use items made of plastic unless they are requested by customers.

The new law covers a variety of items, including forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks, straws, coffee stirrers, condiment packets, sauce cups and soft drink lids.

Exemptions to the drink lid stipulation include hot beverages and soft drinks provided through a delivery service, curbside pickup or via a drive-through window. Large, permanent venues of at least 2,500 seats such as those for athletic events or concerts are also exempt when it comes to the lids.

Healthcare facilities are exempt from all facets of the law when providing food service to patients, as are senior food nutrition programs.

“The Washington Legislature has taken groundbreaking steps in recent years to address the problem of plastic, and continuing that progress is vital to the health of our communities and our planet,” Sen. Mona Das, a Democrat from Kent and the main sponsor of the bill, said in a press release last spring when it was passed. “I am so proud that we’ve passed another tool to move us toward a cleaner, greener Washington.”

Das was also the main sponsor of a bill banning most uses of plastic shopping bags that went into effect on Oct. 1.

This new law, restaurants can also make single-use items available to customers in things like cylinders, bins or dispensers, but utensils must be individually wrapped.

Restaurants face fines of between $150 and $2,000 per day for each day they are found to be in violation.

Starting in June 2023, foam containers such as takeout boxes and coolers made of polystyrene will be prohibited and a ban on the sale of packing peanuts in the state will start in 2024. Takeout boxes will need to be with a higher percentage of post-recycled materials.

The changes are not without concern.

Derek Baziotis of the Washington Hospitality Association told the Spokesman-Review that while supporting reducing waste and recycling is a good thing, higher costs associated with the bill “are not a good thing in the restaurant industry right now.”

Justin Davis, who owns a restaurant outside Spokane, told the paper that a pack of 200 regular foam containers costs $34, but the same number of the kind that will eventually be required costs $67.

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