Bellingham businesses soon must forgo single-use plastics


Bellingham restaurants, grocery stores, lodging establishments and other businesses will be banned from using single-use plastic in almost all cases beginning on July 31, 2022.

The Bellingham City Council agreed in a vote of 7-0 at its May 10, 2021 meeting to pass the ordinance to reduce single-use plastic waste and encourage compostable or reusable alternatives.

The ordinance was first discussed at a council meeting on March 9, 2020, but further discussion was put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak and the need to not place any extra strain on businesses at that time.       

Movement on the ordinance began again in early 2021, when the Public Works Department expressed the need to reduce the amount of plastic waste in Bellingham, as it has presented many problems to the city’s solid waste management system.

State legislation was also passed earlier this year that mandates increased recycled content and prohibits the sale and distribution of plastic foam ⎼ commonly known as Styrofoam. Though local ordinances introduced by April 1, 2021 and enacted by June 1, 2021 are exempt from this legislation, by passing this ordinance now, Bellingham’s ban on single-use plastic can include plastic foam, which otherwise wouldn’t be prohibited at the state level until 2024.

At the May 10 evening meeting, Council Member Michael Lilliquist said that the included ban on plastic foam is a large part of why this ordinance is so important.

“We, and we alone in Bellingham, won’t have to wait years and years to start banning Styrofoam. We can do so far sooner. That is the single most important reason why we need to go first and take back the leadership which was ours and will still be ours,” Lilliquist said at the council meeting.

The ordinance will prohibit single-use plastic food products, such as cups, bowls and utensils, as well as require that restaurants only provide reusable food containers and utensils for dine-in service. Compostable containers can still be provided for take-out.

Single-use plastic personal care products, such as shampoos and lotions, will also be prohibited in lodging establishments.

Exceptions can be made upon request for those with a disability who may require a single-use plastic product, such as a straw or shampoo bottle.

The ordinance received great support at the meeting from both council members and Bellingham residents, despite some discussion of how businesses will be affected.

“I am probably the council member who will be most directly impacted by this ordinance, as the owner of a food and beverage establishment, and I will be voting in favor of the ordinance,” Council Member Hollie Huthman said at the meeting.

Huthman also encouraged small business owners to lean on Sustainable Connections for support in switching to compostable and reusable products. Sustainable Connections is a Bellingham organization that works with local businesses to create plans on how to work more sustainably and reduce waste.

“We have a year to switch over our sourcing, and Sustainable Connections has the already-existing Toward Zero Waste program, so they have the resources,” Huthman said at the meeting.

The Toward Zero Waste program uses personalized coaching, promotions, tool kits and more to help businesses and individuals reduce their level of waste.

Heather Trim, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Zero Waste Washington, whose focus is on supporting environmental legislation at both the local and state level, attended the council meeting and urged the council members to support the ordinance.

Trim previously testified at the public hearing on March 9, 2020, when the ordinance was first discussed. Similar to the council members, she expressed hope that the passing of this ordinance will make Bellingham a leader to the rest of Washington.

“We’re very happy. We think that this could be a model for other cities. This is the most proactive ordinance in the state at the moment,” Trim said.