Recycling and environmentally focused groups are hailing a new state law as groundbreaking when it comes to reducing the amount of plastics entering the solid waste system and, too often, the oceans.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the law, Senate Bill 5022, on Monday.
Over the next several years, the law will ban certain polystyrene products — such as common foam takeout containers — and sets statewide minimums for the amount of recycled material to be used in the manufacture of plastic items, from beverage bottles to trash bags.
The law will also require food service businesses including restaurants, coffee shops and food delivery companies to cut down on single-use items including utensils by providing them only upon request.
The changes are scheduled to take effect between 2022 and 2036.
According to a joint news release from international, state and regional organizations, the new law makes the state the first to restrict food service use of disposable items including cutlery, the first to require minimum recycled content for plastic items, and the state with the strictest ban on polystyrene products.
Washington Recycling and Refuse Association Executive Director Brad Lovaas said the law will help boost how much plastic can be recycled by creating a new market for a product that has been discarded.
“The inclusion of post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging creates market demand. ... It will lead product manufacturers from using virgin resins to recycled plastic feedstock and provide end-markets for the bales of plastics coming from our facilities,” he said.
A new demand for recycled plastics and new limits on foam packaging will help prevent items from being discarded and winding up littering land, streams and sea.
“Globally, 33 billion pounds of plastic waste enter our oceans each year,” Sara Papanikolaou, Washington field representative for the nonprofit Oceana said in the release. “This legislative ban on plastic foam foodware, coolers and packing peanuts serves as a meaningful stepping stone toward preventing plastic pollution. We hope other states and the nation will soon follow suit and stop unnecessary single-use plastics at the source.”
Alyssa Barton, policy manager for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, said in the release that nine of the top 10 items collected during state beach cleanups in 2020 were plastic, including some foam packaging.
That affects Skagit County beaches too, as volunteers including those at an Earth Day event along Anacortes’ Ship Harbor recently found.
Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, was one of the sponsors of the bill. It passed with overwhelming support in the Senate, with a 31-18 vote, and in the House, with a 73-24 vote.