05 • 17 • 2021
Victory: Washington State Passes Comprehensive Policy to tackle Plastic Pollution
The Surfrider Foundation and our partners in the Plastics Free Washington Coalition/Washington Sin Plástico are celebrating as Governor Jay Inslee signs into law SB5022, a major piece of legislation that will help tackle the plastic pollution crisis. The bill had bipartisan support with the state Senate voting 31-17 and the state House of Representatives 73-24. This comprehensive policy bans certain expanded polystyrene products, such as hinged clamshells, plates, and cups. It also mandates minimum recycled content in plastic bottles, jugs, and trash bags. Additionally, this legislation is the first in the nation to comprehensively require people to opt-in for utensils, cup lids, and condiments.
Strongest state-wide expanded polystyrene ban in the US
Washington is now the 6th state in the nation to adopt a statewide ban on expanded polystyrene products and this is also the most far-reaching. In addition to packing peanuts and food service products, Washington is the first state in the nation to ban foam coolers. Foam fragments have made it to Surfrider Foundation’s Top Five items that we've cleaned off our beaches literally every year since we started counting. But now, it’s time to forget the foam.
“I am thrilled that our new law is the most advanced in the nation,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Mona Das (D-Kent). “Last year we banned carry-home thin plastic bags. This year, we kept up the momentum and addressed another product that causes problems both in the environment and in our recycling systems. At this point – in 2021, in a state that has consistently been at the cutting edge of new technology and sustainable development – we should not be manufacturing material that isn’t recyclable, reusable, or compostable. We have both the technology and the support of our communities to get this done. I was proud to introduce this bill to tackle the plastics crisis.”
“Anyone who’s ever been at a beach clean-up knows how much plastic is already polluting our state, and how hard it is to clean it up,” said Gus Gates, Washington Policy Manager from the Surfrider Foundation. “By reducing single-use plastics, our beaches can be less of a plastic dumping ground and restored to their natural beauty that is so important for countless Washingtonians.”
First state to require comprehensive opt-in for utensils, straws, cup lids, and condiments
While five states have taken action to ban or require an opt-in for plastic straws, Washington is the first state to comprehensively require that customers are provided single-use utensils, straws, cup lids, and condiments only upon request. The law applies to most food establishments, including third-party delivery services, such as DoorDash and GrubHub.
“Single-use carryout products are filling up our landfills and polluting our oceans,” said Representative Liz Berry (D-Seattle), who championed the bill in the House. “This new law encourages all of us to act together to protect Washington’s environmental future.”
Requires recycled content in bottles, jugs, and trash bags, taking it a step further than California
SB5022 mandates minimum post-consumer recycled content for certain products, helping drive the market for recycled plastic resin.
While California passed a similar bill in September 2020 for plastic beverage containers, Washington’s goes a step further by also applying to dairy milk and alcohol containers.
Major beverage companies supported these recycled content mandates in California and Washington. The standards of these two U.S. states are the most advanced in the world, exceeding Europe’s. In 2019, the European Union adopted a directive on single-use plastic products that requires plastic bottles to contain at least 25% recycled plastic by 2025 and at least 30% recycled content by 2030.
Washington is the first US state to require minimum recycled content for plastic bottles and jugs for household cleaning and personal care products such as laundry detergent, spray cleaners, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions. The state is starting with 15% recycled content in 2025 and increasing to 50% in 2031.
The law also contains a recycled content standard of 20% by 2017 for trash bags which are 0.70 mil or greater in thickness. This level exceeds the only other state with a trash bag mandate, California, which has a 10% standard.
Bill components work together to reduce waste and move towards a responsible circular economy
Plastic pollution also places a huge financial burden on local communities, which bear the costs of cleaning up plastic waste. The vast majority of plastic waste is not recyclable, and much of what is recyclable does not get recycled.
The new law also removes the requirement for the chasing arrows symbol on plastic bottles and rigid plastic containers. This symbol is confusing for consumers because even though the symbol is required, not all of these items are actually recyclable.
“Ideally we reduce our use of plastic in the first place by bringing our own bags and reusable water bottles,” said Heather Trim, the Executive Director of Zero Waste Washington. “For those items that we recycle, the public wants to make sure it is ‘real recycling.’ That is, manufacturers convert the material from those products into new bottles and bags. The multiple components of this bill get us closer to that true circular economy.”
This is an amazing win for plastic pollution in the state of Washington. If you want to check out how your state and locality stack up on plastic reduction laws, check out this map, and if you want to find more ways to advocate for more plastic reduction and ocean conservation laws, check out our take action page.