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Oregon Restaurants on Track for Reusable Rulemaking

After over  4 years of advocacy to get Oregon's health and food code on track to curb single use plastics and build space for reuse, restaurants in Oregon will soon be enabled to accept reusable containers for to-go and take out. Oregon's Health Authority (OHA) will open up public comment next month on a draft rule which allows restaurants a pathway to enable customers to bring their own take out containers provided certain protocols and health standards are met. Oregon Surfrider first embarked on this effort in late 2020, following complaints from zero waste businesses that were hampered by health code that disallowed reuse in the retail and restaurant space. The rules follow legislation that was put forth in 2023 (SB 545), directing the OHA to adopt rules by this summer. 


Items like this plastic to-go fork are a common find on Oregon's beach cleanups. New rules in Oregon will to enable and encourage reuseables by consumers and businesses and may help curb this sort of plastic pollution. Photo: Charlie Plybon, South Beach, OR

Surfrider Foundation has always been a strong proponent of the bring your own culture - encouraging consumers to use reusable shopping bags and water bottles, shop in bulk and generally encouraging reusable containers wherever safely possible to help eliminate our demand on single use plastics. So in the fall of 2020 when we started hearing from some businesses and consumers that our state's health code was a barrier to reuse, we got to work launching our Clean up the Code Campaign. At the time, both retail and restaurant code was generally prohibitive for any solid foods, while some code accommodations had long been accepted for beverages. We first worked with Oregon's Department of Agriculture (ODA), lobbying the group's Food Safety Committee to establish new rules and guidelines to enable reuse in grocery and retail establishments. Over the course of a year, we were able to work with the group to establish new rules, updating Oregon's Food Safety Code. In the year following we expanded that effort and lessons learned to restaurants, drafting SB 545 with chief sponsor Senator Janeen Sollman which passed during the 2023 legislative session. The bill directed Oregon's Health Authority, who regulates food safety in restaurants under nearly an identical code as ODA does for retail, to adopt new rules enabling customers to bring their own reusable containers for take out food. 

Oregon Health Authority just completed the draft rule following a Rule Advisory Committee process that Surfrider was able to participate in. The draft rule will be published in the coming weeks to the agency's website with opportunities to provide public comment. The agency will also be conducting a public hearing sometime in mid May and plans to adopt the rule by the end of the month. The legislation sets forth that the rule should go into effect by June 1st and it looks as thought the agency is on track for that target. Surfrider thanks the Oregon Health Authority for their follow through and commitment on this important milestone to enable reuse in Oregon and curb our dependency on single use plastics!