BY RYAN SCOTT
Bellingham restaurants, hotels, schools, and grocery stores will soon have to move away from providing single-use plastic products as the City Council passed a ban on their use during their meeting on May 10, 2021. The ordinance was originally presented to the council in March 2020 but had to be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the reintroduced ordinance passed unanimously at the recent meeting.
By passing this ordinance, the council hopes to “contribute to the start of a solution” to the serious problem plastic waste presents to our oceans and environment, Council Legislative Analyst Mark Gardner said.
With the adoption of this ordinance, Bellingham becomes a leader in the effort to reduce single-use plastics as a city level.
The ordinance presented to the council Monday has “a more extensive implementation timeline to support our local merchants who have weathered the storm of COVID-19,” Council Member Dan Hammill said.
Plastic food service products such as cups, bowls, plates, cutlery, take-out containers and resale containers are specifically targeted by this ordinance. Bellingham businesses will need to find compostable alternatives to these products by July 31, 2022.
“Food service is particularly difficult to recycle because it is usually contaminated,” Gardner said, adding that in these cases the whole load of recyclable material needs to be thrown out if contaminated.
The council acknowledged that for some plastic products, such as produce bags, specialty containers and packaging materials for meat, businesses need more than 13 months to properly source. The council set a separate deadline for these products to switch over to eco-friendly alternatives, taking effect Jan 1, 2023 instead. This deadline can be pushed back even further if businesses still need additional time when this later deadline arrives, Gardner said.
Bellingham businesses are not alone as they attempt to switch away from single-use plastics They have organizations such as Sustainable Connections providing education resources for businesses needing to switch up their sourcing.
“To all of the other fellow businesses out there that this is affecting: lean on them. Take some frustration out of your life,” said Council Member Hollie Huthman, who owns a local restaurant in addition to working on the council.
“I know when you have been doing the same thing for years and years it’s a little difficult to change, and frustrating to have to do the research to make those changes. So, I think we are really lucky to have Sustainable Connection to lean on for that,” Huthman said.
By acting early to ban single-use plastics, Bellingham has also taken an important step in banning Styrofoam. Washington Legislature introduced a bill to ban single-use plastics, mainly plastic bags, across the state, however, Styrofoam was excluded from this bill.
“There was a big compromise made at the state level, I think it was a large step backwards,” Council Member Michael Lilliquist said, “because we had already introduced this regulation and because we are acting now, we and we alone in Bellingham won’t have to wait years to start banning Styrofoam.”
“The more it gets adopted by other cities, the more pressure that’s put on the state to adopt a uniform, similar kind of ban,” Mayor Seth Fleetwood said.
“If we can prove to be successful in our local effort that will be something cited by cities who are hopefully going to be highly motivated to implement versions that are similar to Bellingham,” Fleetwood said.