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Understanding the city's Plastic Reduction Code

On Wednesday (11/14) the Portland Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation provided testimony in front of City Council. You can read the entire plastic reduction code in detail here, but it's awfully lengthy and we'd like to break it down into some essential information to help you understand what is being considered.

First, it is important to note that due to some questions on the language, this ordinance will still require a second vote before it is formally adopted. Surfrider is further advocating for some clarity in the definition for the broader inclusion of fast food and takeout, given those are the greatest contributors to the plastic pollution we find on our streets, rivers, and beaches.

What this code does:

  • For dine in: requires that straws be available upon request only
    • Employees must not automatically put a straw in your glass. If you'd like a straw, you must ask for it.
  • For fast food, take out, and delivery: requires an "ask first" policy with utensils and condiments
    • Employees must ask if you need utensils or condiment packages with your to-go meal.
  • Groups plastic reduction policy (bags, polystyrene, straws, utensils) into one single code
    • When doing outreach for the new code, this will allow the previous bans of the plastic bag and polystyrene to be reinforced.
    • This also makes further development on plastic reduction policy easier to address.

What this code doesn't do:

  • A complete ban on straws
    • Unlike other cities, Portland is considering the ADA community's need for a straw to be available. Equity and inclusion are important and in no way do we at Surfrider want to be promoting something that will make those who already have to adapt to an abled world more challenging.
  • Require straws available to be an alternative material
    • If you do request to have a straw in your drink, businesses can provide you with any material straw they wish.
    • Plastic and "compostable" straws can still be available behind the counter. While having reduced use of straws is beneficial, "compostable" straws are not permitted in Portland's food only compost system. They do not end up biodegrading and therefore are just as big of a problem for our oceans as plastic straws are.
    • Surfrider recommends the use of alternative materials (such as paper, stainless steel, glass, bamboo, etc.) when in need of a straw.
  • Require fast food, take out, and delivery options to ask about straws
    • While in these to-go situations it will be necessary for employees to ask customers if they would like utensils or condiment packages, it will not be necessary for them to ask about straws.
    • We at Surfrider believe it is physically possible to drink beverages without a straw - even in a fast food environment. Do you know how to drink a to-go beverage without a straw? Please feel free to provide us with your comments about this.
  • Address plastic lids and cups
    • Unfortunately there are not enough alternative sources for plastic lids yet. Let us know if you invent something!

While this is a positive step in the right direction for Portland as a city, there is still work to be done. In the words of Mayor Ted Wheeler, "We are clearly on a path to eliminate single use plastics. This is our first line in the sand."

We are incredibly proud of the impact #DitchtheStrawPDX has had across the Portland Metro area over the past year - results that prove Portland is ready to curb their single-use plastic use. We’ve seen great successes working with over 120 businesses ranging from large event spaces like the Doug Fir to neighborhood coffee shops like Posies, and fine dining establishments like St. Jacks. Most businesses have reported the switch away from plastic straws to paper, metal, glass, or bamboo alternatives on request as easier than expected, and many have reported drastic straw reductions, positive customer feedback, and cost savings.

Mad Hanna has reported $1,000 in cost savings - and that’s only since May. Portland Spirit estimated between 8,000-10,000 straws are being avoided per year through the policy change. New Seasons reports preventing over 100,000 straws by removing them from all of their coffee and smoothie bars in Portland. Porque No has dropped from 4,000 straws per month to 1,000 per month.

We'd like to extend a huge thank you to all the support we have received this past year from all of the individuals and businesses who have helped make this happen. #DitchTheStrawPDX has been hugely successful and we could not have done it without you. This is a great first step and we will continue to move forward with this mission!