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Clean up the Oregon Health Code

05 • 08 • 2023

Clean up the Oregon Health Code

Victory! Oregon adopts new rules and passes legislation to modernize the state's health code to better allow for reusable containers and refill systems, cutting down on single-use plastics.

Oregon Department of Agriculture adopted rules for reusable containers in retail establishments in February of 2023 and the Oregon legislature passed SB 545, instructing Oregon Health Authority to do the same for restaurants by June 2024.

For a waste-conscious consumer, there can be a lot of confusion in the grocery store about what the rules are for reusable containers and bags. While the previous code didn't support reuse, it was also not routinely enforced and different establishments tended to observe the rules at varying degrees – more on that saga here. As an obvious place to cut down on single use plastic, all that’s needed is a path put in place by the code that establishes safe, hygienic practices.

As an organization that heavily promotes reuse and eliminating single-use plastics that plague our ocean, beaches, wildlife and health, it made good sense for us to work with businesses on this effort to modernize Oregon's health code. Oregon's health code is administered by two separate agencies for restaurants and for retail, Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Agriculture respectively.

So Surfrider Oregon Chapters lead a nearly 3-year effort, with environmental and business allies, to help Oregon’s Department of Agriculture update Oregon’s Health Code to allow for use of reusable produce bags and bulk containers by consumers in retail establishments. 

Surfrider brought the issues of inconsistency and unnecessary waste to the Food Safety Advisory Committee within the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). From there, the ODA responded with a subcommittee that we worked with to amend rules 3.304-17 & 4-603.17 which explicitly define and set forth rules for allowable reusable and refillable containers and how to refill returnables. 

We later launched a legislative effort, through Senate Bill 545, to ensure that ODA rule-making happened in a timely fashion and that Oregon Health Authority also initiate rule-making for restaurant establishments. In February of 2023, ODA officially adopted the new rules and we amended SB 545 in the legislature to address just restaurants. In April the legislature passed the bill and it was signed by the Governor on May 8, 2023. 

Ongoing Campaign Updates

UPDATE: 12/5/2022 - Following a year of successful advocacy to ODA's Food Safety Advisory Committee, the agency has drafted an updated rule that would allow for reusables food containers to be utilized in retail establishments. The updated rule will be open to public comment on January 04, 2023. In addition, Surfrider Foundation staff has been working with Senator Sollman's office (D15) to also draft a bill for the 2023 legislature which would further reinforce the new rule and extend reusables to restaurants and take-out.

Update 01/20/2023 - Surfrider launches legislative campaigns aimed at reducing plastic pollution...SB 545, builds off our work with ODA to support similar rulemaking for restaurants through the Oregon Health Authority - more info. 

Update 02/02/2023 - Halfway to victory! ODA publishes new rules and updated code for retail establishments - more info. 

Update 02/14/2023 - Day of Action! - Break up with Plastics this valentines - more info. 

Update 03/23/2023 - Reusable bill (SB 545) and other Surfrider Oregon plastic pollution efforts on the move - more info.

Update 04/26/2023: Our legislation, SB 545 has passed the Oregon legislature and is headed to the Oregon Governor's desk! More info. 

Update 05/08/2023: Governor Kotek signs SB 545. More info.