Storm damage recovery

Community conversations about single-use plastics support new policy

News Article
Portland City Council cuts back on single-use plastic serviceware while Portlanders who rely on items for healthcare situations can still obtain what they need.

After a second reading and unanimous vote, Portland City Council passed a new ordinance to reduce the automatic distribution of single-use plastics in Portland. Since Portland already has bans in place for Styrofoam and plastic grocery bags, the new ordinance repeals the existing code for Single-use Plastic Checkout Bags and Polystyrene Foam Food Containers and replaces it with Code Prohibitions and Restrictions on Single-use Plastic (Ordinance; replace Code Chapter 17.103; repeal Code Sections 17.102.300-340). 

Besides overwhelming our landfills, plastic straws and other single-use disposables affect the health of humans and animal communities. Over 660 species, including sea turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds, are impacted and in many cases die from ingesting or becoming entangled in the plastic debris. A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plastic problem. This is a small but important step in the right direction.

– Mayor, Ted Wheeler

The City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) worked with the Mayor’s office to research the policies of other cities, conduct a series of workgroup meetings, analyze community feedback and land on a policy recommendation: Restrictions on plastic serviceware including; straws, stirrers, utensils and condiment packaging.

“This ordinance will multiply the impact we’ve seen with our grassroots #DitchTheStrawPDX program, preventing millions of single-use items from entering the waste-stream, said Nancy Nordman, Ditch the Straw coordinator of the Portland chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with businesses and the city to implement this policy, ultimately making a measurable reduction in waste and stopping plastic pollution at its source.”

The ordinance will include the restrictions on plastic serviceware (defined as straws, stirrers, utensils and condiment packaging) for the following situations, when applicable to the food and beverage order:

  • By request policy: In dine-in situations, plastic serviceware will be only available by request of the customer.
  • Ask first policy: In fast food, take-out and delivery situations, plastic serviceware will only be provided after the customer has been asked and confirms they want the plastic serviceware.

Notification and outreach to businesses will begin in January 2019 and the ordinance will go into effect on July 1,2019.

Community feedback guided policy development

The work group, consisting of restaurants, wholesalers, a medical facility, American Disability Act (ADA) straw users, and environmental advocates, contributed their time to discussing plastics reduction at a series of meetings, along with partners from Multnomah County, Prosper Portland and the City of Portland Bureau of Equity and Human Rights.

“The Mayor and taskforce embraced the need to create an inclusive policy that balanced the needs of both people living with disabilities and the environment,” said Nickole Cheron, ADA title II and disability equity manager, City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights. “We must continue to always ask ourselves who is the most impacted by our decisions and make sure we bring them to the table to insure an equitable path forward.”

“The Portland restaurant community appreciates the city keeping the ordinance “by-request”, respecting the need for single-use plastics for our customers, especially those in the disabled community," said Greg Astley, government affairs director, Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. "Portland restaurants recognize the need to reduce plastics in the waste stream balanced with the needs of our guests.”

Survey and public feedback results

A public survey focused on City action to reduce single-use plastics. Over 4000 responses resulted from the survey and were overwhelmingly supportive of City action to reduce single-use plastics.

The results of stakeholder engagement and the survey highlighted these focus areas. 

  • The community sees the need for government intervention.
  • Waste prevention (not using) is the highest and best available alternative to single-use plastics.
  • Plastic straws are a crucial tool for people with disabilities and those recovering from injury or illness and therefore should be restricted, but not banned.
  • Alternatives for reuse and single-use plastic were not specified due to variabilities in environmental impact. Switching to paper may reduce marine impact but result in cutting down more trees and higher carbon emissions. 
  • Human health impacts from single-use plastics, including toxicity need to be considered.