The Portland Chapter has been hard at work fighting to reduce the amount of single-use plastics being utilized in their City. On November 14th the Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve a plastic reduction ordinance. While the ordinance is a step in the right direction, it’s a far cry from the “edgy and aggressive” policy Mayor Wheeler requested back in June when Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability was directed to create the policy. In response, city staff are looking at making a minor amendment, that could make Portland’s ordinance one of the strongest and most meaningful in the nation.

Portland’s proposed ordinance would require restaurants to make straws available on request for dine-in. For takeout, delivery, and fast food, businesses will be required to ask if customers want to-go utensils and condiments. The policy does not ban straws or require straws made of more sustainable materials nor does it require fast food restaurants to ask before providing a straw.  The policy also fails to address single-use plastic cups and lids – something Councilor Fritz expressly requested to be part of the policy when she voted to approve the plastic reduction resolution in June. For a more in-depth look at the policy, check out the Portland Chapter’s post about it.

How does Portland’s policy stack up to other plastic reduction policies in the US?

  • The City of Malibu banned plastic (including bioplastic) straws, stirrers, and utensils in all restaurants – including fast food. The ordinance allows non-plastic alternatives to be provided only upon request. [More info]
  • The City of Seattle bans food service businesses from providing plastic straws, cocktail picks, and utensils. Businesses are allowed to use compostable alternatives provided they have been approved by a local composting facility. *The use of compostable plastics is not possible in Portland because their composting system cannot handle them. [More info about Seattle’s policy]
  • The City of Santa Monica recently banned all non-marine degradable disposable food service ware, which includes plates, utensils, straws, lids, and more. Additionally, straws and utensils must only be provided upon request. Bio-plastics are prohibited from use. [More info]

Santa Monica and Malibu are highly favorable policies that are comprehensive, include fast food, and disallow bioplastics. Policies such as these, however, have not been implemented in a city the size of Portland, opening the door for Portland to be the first.

Outside of the US, whole countries have enacted bans on single-use plastics. The European Union is set to pass a single-use plastic ban that includes straws, plates, utensils, balloon sticks, and more. Costa Rica has been taking steps towards its goal to become the first country to ban single-use plastics.

Really, the City of Portland doesn’t need to look far to see how their policy could be improved. The Portland Chapter of Surfrider has already signed up more than 120 businesses who have volunteered to eliminate single-use plastic straws and only offer alternative straws upon request. The success they’ve seen goes beyond decreasing environmental impacts – it saves money for the business. Several participating businesses have reported saving thousands of dollars in their first year of participation, preventing thousands of single-use plastic straws from being used. The Portland New Seasons stores alone have decreased their straw usage by 100,000 this year.

The second reading of the ordinance will be Wednesday, November 28th (time tbd). There may be some changes to the ordinance based on feedback received during the first reading.

Be sure to follow the Portland Chapter on facebook and sign up for their e-newsletter for updates as this policy progresses.