Seattle Bans Single-use Restaurant Packaging From Landfills

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Items considered waste just one week ago by most Seattle restaurants and food establishments are now routed into a separate bin, destined for commercial composting. Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs

Seattle, followed closely by the City of Issaquah next year, is officially the first market area in North America to require single-use food service packaging be either compostable or recyclable.

Put into effect July 1, the ordinance requires restaurants, coffee shops, food courts, cafeterias and other food service businesses to stop throwing away single-use food-service ware and packaging including napkins, paper bags, wooden coffee stir sticks, clamshells and hot and cold beverage cups and lids among others.

The city has contracted with Cedar Grove Composting to accept the commercial food-service products and provide restaurants with an accepted list of compostable items.

“With our requirement that food service packaging must be compostable or recyclable, Seattle has taken a big step toward a zero waste future,” said City Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “You have to ask yourself why we should make stuff just to throw it away. With compostable and recyclable food containers, we’re closing the loop.”

Food establishments using compostable or recyclable food service products are required to provide collection bins for customers.

According to Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Dick Lilly, about half of the 1,700 restaurants in Seattle have signed up for food-waste collection by Cedar Grove. The City hopes participation of the new ordinance will help prevent 6,000 tons of food service-ware and leftover food from entering landfills.

The compost process at Cedar Grove takes about eight weeks, depending on the time of year. From there, it sits a few weeks to darken before it can be sold as compost for use in gardens and landscaping.

Similar regulations for single-use food service packaging are being tried in San Francisco and are planned in Toronto.

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