science environment

Portland's New Plastics Policy Is Almost Here. Here's What You Should Know

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Sept. 29, 2019 11:11 p.m.

If Portlanders want a package of soy sauce tucked into their takeout sushi order, they’re going to need to speak up starting Tuesday.

That's when the city's new plastics policy officially takes effect. Food and drink purveyors could face up to a $500 fine for automatically providing customers with plastic straws, stirrers, utensils, or plastic-packaged condiments like soy sauce or coffee creamer.


The ordinance, approved by the City Council in December, allows businesses to provide Portlanders with these plastics, but "only after customer request."


It's the latest move by Oregon lawmakers to curb the use of disposable plastic, which overwhelms the state's landfills and litters its waterways. Portland passed its first major plastic bag ban in 2011, and state lawmakers followed suit this summer.

But this plastics policy is not a ban. Though the city originally mulled an outright prohibition, officials changed course after members of the disability rights community said some with mobility and strength issues relied on plastic straws to drink. The city now recommends all businesses maintain “a small supply to provide when requested” for these customers.

Instead of forcing a ban, officials said they wanted to give customers the option to forego the items.

“These plastics are cheap and a lot of businesses have made it a point to just include them in whatever order is happening for food and drink – and that is the default,” Pete Chism-Winfield, program coordinator with the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, told OPB in December after the ordinance was approved. “So what we’re trying to do with this policy is reset the default.”

The law affects nearly all food purveyors, including food carts, hotels, caterers and bars. The only services exempt are those that provide free or reduced-price meals to “vulnerable populations,” such as a program that delivers meals to the elderly. And for places with counter service, plastic utensils are still allowed in a self-serve area.

The ordinance similarly leaves some leeway for the odd bit of plastic. An exception is made for items where the plastic is attached by the manufacturer, like a juice box. And a pass is given for products where a key ingredient is packaged in plastic, like container of salad with dressing packet.