Portland isn't going to "ban the straw" as some other cities have done, but it hopes to accomplish the same results and more with a new policy aimed at reducing the use of throwaway plastics.
After some minor tweaks, the Portland City Council granted final approval Wednesday, Dec. 5, to an ordinance designed to reduce distribution of single-use straws, stirrers, serviceware and condiment packaging at restaurants, bars and take-out establishments.
Starting in July, people dining out or going out for drinks in Portland will need to ask their server if they want a plastic straw for their drink. The same goes for plastic stirrers for their coffee, plastic knives, forks or spoons, and condiments such as mustard packed in throwaway plastics.
For fast-food, take-out and delivery situations, servers will first ask if the customer wants such items before automatically providing them.
The ordinance applies to food carts and institutional cafeterias such as those at schools, colleges, hospitals and other businesses.
Portland opted for a "by-request" policy rather than an outright ban on plastic straws, in large part to address concerns that some people with disabilities or recovering from injuries require a straw to drink.
The ordinance, championed by Mayor Ted Wheeler, responds to an international campaign to "ban the straw," which has become a potent symbol of all the plastic garbage that winds up littering our rivers and winding up in the oceans, where it can endanger wildlife that ingests the plastic bits. Locally, the campaign was led by the Surfrider Foundation and its Ditch the Straw campaign.
"#DitchTheStrawPDX has grown immensely over the past year and Surfrider Portland is proud to have been the catalyst in bringing together business leaders, individual volunteers, and local government to drive a grassroots effort to reduce single-use plastics across the Portland metro region," said Nancy Nordman, #DitchTheStrawPDX Coordinator, in an email statement following the council vote on Wednesday.
"A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plastic problem," Wheeler stated in a news release. "This is a small but important step in the right direction.
"Besides overwhelming our landfills, plastic straws and other single-use disposables affect the health of humans and animal communities," Wheeler added. "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."
Once Wheeler's staff addressed concerns by advocates for the disabled to allow straws upon request, the ordinance faced little opposition.
At a public hearing on Nov. 14, no one spoke against the plan, which was endorsed by a lobbyist for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Some businesses are finding that ending the automatic distribution of plastic straws with every drink has saved them money.
Wheeler stressed that this is just one of many ways to cut down on plastic trash in the environment.
"We are clearly on a path to eliminating single-use plastics," he said at the earlier public hearing. "This is our first line in the sand."
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will commence an outreach campaign in January to educate eateries and other food and drink establishments about the new ordinance requirements. The Multnomah County Health Department, which inspects restaurants, has agreed to educate businesses about the new requirements.
Levying penalties for those who flout the rules will be a "last resort" for enforcement, according to Pete Chism-Winfield, a city sustainability bureau waste specialist who helped draft the policy.
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