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What you need to know about Portland's new plastic policy

Starting October 1, you'll have to ask for plastic utensils and sauce packets in Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Ever order takeout and get plastic utensils or handfuls of condiment packets you're just going to toss out? 

Plastics like that are littering our streets and waterways, so the City of Portland is trying to cut back.

Plastic straws have been restricted in Oregon for a few months, but starting Tuesday, Oct. 1, you'll also have to ask for plastic utensils and sauce packets in Portland.

“While we understand there are many types of single use plastics - and, in fact, half the plastics in the world are designed to be single use - this is really kind of starting a conversation rather than trying to fix the problem of ocean plastics,” City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Program Coordinator Pete Chism-Winfield said. “We are a piece of a puzzle that is way bigger than us but at least we are doing something.”

Businesses can't automatically include single-use plastics in your dine-in, drive-through, to-go or delivery orders.

“This is designed to kind of hit the pause button in an exchange so that the customer has an opportunity to decide whether or not they need that single use plastic,” Chism-Winfield added.

Holy Trinity Barbecue owner Kyle Rensmeyer has plastic utensils now, but digs the new policy.

“I don't see any hindrance with that,” he told KGW. “We'll have them available, we're not going to offer them but we definitely prefer to try to close the loop a little bit.”

By closing the loop, he's referring to the policy going a step further.

“If we're going to eliminate single use plastics then I think let's not offer people a way around it and really start trying to get rid of them,” Rensmeyer said. 

The new policy applies to any place that sells food or drinks: sit-down and fast food restaurants, food carts, bars, coffee and tea shops, grocery stores, hotels and caterers. 

The only exception is meals provided as part of a social service, such as free or reduced meals, homeless shelters and programs for the elderly.

The policy covers straws, stirrers, utensils and individually packaged condiments like soy sauce or ketchup. Plastics labeled "compostable" are included, too, because they can’t be composted in the city of Portland.

The city didn't ban the plastics outright because the disability community said many people need plastic straws to help them drink liquids.

City of Portland Single-Use Plastics Policy FAQs

If you're ordering "to go" at a restaurant, delivery or drive-through employees can ask if you need any of those things. 

Counter service and grab-and-go places can put utensils in a self-service area. But plastic straws, stirrers and condiment packets need to be kept behind the counter.

Credit: The Tank
Portland Plastics Policy infographic

If businesses violate the policy, the city will first give them a written warning. Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff will work with them to reach compliance, but if they don’t comply they can be fined up to $500.

Many Portland businesses are already practicing eco-friendly methods like this. Take popular taqueria ¿Por Qué No? for instance.

"I’ve worked here a long time and we’ve always done it this way: when we take a phone order we just ask the person: would you like us to include some utensils or extra salsas?” ¿Por Qué No? General Manager Katy Abby told KGW, “And it’s really easy for them to choose if they want it or not and doesn't seem any harder for us to do that. Then we’re not throwing away extra product or including something someone doesn’t want.”

It saves them from ordering more plastics as well, Abby says. 

They stopped using plastic straws prior to Oregon implementing its policy this year and when they did so, the restaurant tracked how much they stopped ordering to understand how much they’d been using. 

“It was thousands. We’re a busy place and sell a lot of drinks but thousands of straws just from us! So I think these seemingly little changes can make a big impact,” Abby said. “I think this is a good change and I’m excited to see businesses get on board with it.”

RELATED: Oregon lawmakers vote to ban single-use plastic bags

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RELATED: Oregon votes to ban restaurants from offering plastic straws

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