Seattle Bans Use of Plastic Straws and Utensils in Food Service Establishments

by | July 2, 2018

Effective July 1, 2018, Seattle has banned the use of plastic utensils and straws in all restaurants, food trucks, grocery stores, coffee shops, and institutional cafeterias operating in city limits. The ban is an attempt by officials to curb the harmful environmental effects of single-use utensils on our oceans. It is the first of its kind for any major U.S. city, though similar restrictions have been contemplated in other eco-conscious municipalities and some smaller cities have placed limits on their use.

This regulation is a continuation of the 2008 measure which forced food-service businesses to move to recyclable and compostable cups, plates, and containers. Straws and utensils were not subject to the ordinance since, at the time, there were no good replacements available for these items. Since paper and compostable straws have greatly improved in quality since then, the exemptions have expired and they will be subject to the same restrictions as all other single-use service items.

Any businesses found not complying with the ban will be fined $250 for each violation. Current efforts by Seattle Public Utilities focus on education and assistance rather than enforcement.

How does a business comply with the regulations?

  • Do not provide styrofoam food service products
  • Do not provide plastic straws and plastic utensils
  • Provide compostable food service packaging or recyclable packaging
  • Provide compostable straws and utensils only on request
  • Provide recycle and compost bins for customers and staff in dining areas, kitchen, and facilities
  • Register for recycling and composting collection services

Are waivers available?

Seattle Public Utilities, in Director’s Rule SW-500.1, provided further information about the ordinance as well as waivers for food service businesses. Waivers will be available for a one-year period ending June 30, 2019 and will apply to the following single-use service items:

  • Disposable long-handled thick plastic soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks and identified as non-compostable by the food-service business to its customers
  • Disposable flexible plastic drinking straws when needed by customers due to medical or physical conditions and for whom flexible compostable paper straws are unsuitable. Otherwise, straws must be compostable or designed to be reusable
  • Metal foil, metal foil-faced papers and engineered composite papers used to wrap hot food such as hamburgers and burritos
  • Portion cups (two ounces and under), if used for hot foods or requiring lids and identified as non-compostable by the food-service business to its customers

The ordinance also allows an exception for those with disabilities. Food service businesses may provide flexible plastic straws to individuals who require them for medical reasons.

If you have any questions about this regulation, please contact an Equinox staff member.