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New Washington law requires customers to ask for plastic utensils, straws

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, aims to reduce waste by banning restaurants from automatically including plastic silverware, straws and condiments.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A Washington state law taking effect Jan. 1 will stop restaurants and other businesses from automatically including plastic utensils in to-go orders. It will also require customers to ask for straws and lids for most cold beverages. 

The law is meant to reduce the amount of waste polluting the environment.

It applies to the following single-use utensils and other items: 

  • Utensils (knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks)
  • Cocktail picks, splash sticks, and stirrers
  • Straws
  • Condiment packets, sachets, or sauce cups
  • Cold cup lids, except those provided at drive-thru windows or events with over 2,500 people

The new law does not ban those items, but it does force customers to specifically ask for them or help themselves at self-service stations.

“Automatically including disposable silverware, straws and condiments with every order creates a huge amount of waste, much of which ends up littering our roads and damaging our environment,” said Laurie Davies, manager of the Washington Department of Ecology's solid waste program. “This law nudges people to help reduce unnecessary waste.”

Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, said the law is a good start.

“We’re trying to reduce that load of plastic pollution into our environment,” Trim said.

RELATED: These new Washington laws go into effect on Jan. 1

She said Washington was the first state to pass the law, followed by California. Oregon has not passed a similar law, but the city of Portland did in late 2019.

Karen Carlton, co-owner of Joe Brown’s Café in downtown Vancouver, has some reservations about the new law. 

The café has been around for 90 years, and Carlton said to-go orders have kept the the business afloat during the pandemic. She said she expects some customers to be confused and unhappy.

“If I don’t send out the little jelly, then what do I do? Put it in the plastic cup? I mean I don’t know what they want us to do,” she said.

The new law will allow her to send out jelly packets — but only if customers ask for them first.

Read the state's release on the law here.

RELATED: Plastic bag ban is now in effect in Washington. Here's what you need to know

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