Bellingham businesses take step toward sustainability


Establishments such as restaurants and hotels in Bellingham will have to shift to using more compostable and reusable products within the next year. The Bellingham City Council is placing a ban on single-use plastic products and encouraging the use of compostable and more reusable alternatives instead. Enforcement of the ordinance to reduce single-use plastic will begin on July 31, 2022.

An Ordinance to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Waste in Bellingham and to Encourage Compostable or Reusable Alternatives was passed unanimously at the City Council meeting May 10, 2021, amid overwhelming support from the public and council members. 

“Yes, yes, yes,” Bellingham resident Warren Sheay said in response to the ordinance during the Public Comment Period.

“Over the last half century, more and more plastic has been produced much faster than the rate of population growth,” Legislative Policy Analyst Mark Gardner said. “What we’re seeing is more and more things being double, triple or quadruple packaged in plastic.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that plastic pollution is a large physical and chemical threat to both human and marine life. In 2018, the United States produced 35.7 million tons of plastic waste.

Plastic that is labelled as recyclable is not recyclable if it has any food remnants on it. It is essentially garbage, according to Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington.

Trim also noted that many people don’t understand what qualifies as recyclable or not, which causes issues at recycling plants. There is a three inch minimum requirement, making single-use products like plastic straws and silverware non-recyclable.

“The plastics industry has massively subsidized the publicity around the idea of recycling,” said Council member Michael Lilliquist. “Recycling is basically a false promise that’s been held up as a virtuous solution for the environment.”

If you want to use something made of plastic for 35 years, then use plastic; if you are going to throw something made of plastic away after five minutes, then don’t use plastic, Lilliquist suggested.

Due to the ordinance, hotels will stop giving out single-use plastics like miniature shampoos and conditioners. Instead they will install dispensers for such things, with the exception of providing miniature options upon request for those with disabilities who may not be able to reach the dispensers or need different accommodations.

Lilliquist called single-use plastic “instant garbage” and said there is no reason to have them when other more sustainable alternatives can be provided.

Some restaurants have already begun the transition into these more sustainable options: using washable and reusable products for sit-down options such as glass or ceramic plates and silverware.

“The cost of buying those single-use items again and again and again for customers is more expensive than buying durable real plates and silverware and then just washing them,” Trim said.

Restaurants are starting to take a more active role in helping the environment and are making changes to be more sustainable. According to Gardner, even chains such as Taco Time are working towards being completely compostable.

Hollie Huthman, councilwoman and restaurant owner, noted that change is difficult, but fully supported the ordinance. She said that “the way we use plastic isn’t sustainable” and that establishments need to help each other achieve sustainable practices.

Places such as Sustainable Connections and Where To Go with To Go are just a couple of the organizations in the community that are helping to educate restaurants on how to comply with the ordinance by using compostables or reusable alternatives, according to Gardner.

“It takes a community,” Councilwoman Lisa Anderson said. “Education is extremely important and I think the support of groups like Sustainable connections assisting with vendor information and product information and other alternatives is really important.”

The city wants to work cooperatively with establishment owners. Those who don’t follow the guidelines of the ordinance and still continue to use single-use plastics will first be contacted and provided assistance to help them comply with the ordinance. Only repeated non-compliance establishments will be met with a fine that starts at $250 per day, according to Gardner.

Anderson said she believes that this ordinance is an example of good policy work that exists and hopes it can influence and impact other ordinances for other places not only in Washington but regionally and possibly nationally.

“I hope this helps people examine their own waste as more information comes out that recycling is not as we had all hoped it would be years ago when we embraced it,” Anderson said.