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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

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Phone: 503-823-7037

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

Portland's new "by-request" policy reduces plastic waste

Next time you order food to-go, you may be asked, “Do you need a straw? Or a fork?”  

You’re being asked instead of automatically handed these items because of the City of Portland's new “by-request” policy

As of October 1, businesses in Portland cannot automatically include plastic straws, stirrers, utensils or individually packaged condiments with your food or drink order. These items can only be provided by request.

Available by request

The goal: Reduce plastic waste

Straws and other single-use plastic items are littering our streets, polluting waterways, and trashing our recycling and compost.

By switching the default to “ask before providing,” customers don’t end up with disposables they didn’t want, businesses save money, and less energy and resources—including fossil fuels—are needed to make things that are only used once.

Many Portland restaurants have already made changes to reduce waste by:

  • Making straws available only by request.
  • Switching from disposable to reusable cutlery and dishware.
  • Replacing individually-packaged condiments with bulk dispensers.

The City’s policy follows their lead, builds on Portland's existing single-use plastic bag and Styrofoam bans, and joins cities and countries around the world in supporting residents’ desire to reduce plastic waste. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What about “compostable” plastics? There is no exception for plastic items labeled “compostable,” “biodegradable” or “made from plants.” These items cannot be composted in Portland (read why). Additionally, they can have negative environmental impacts equal to or greater than conventional plastics and are unlikely to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean [1, 2].

Why by-request instead of a ban? Some people with disabilities find it difficult or impossible to drink without a straw, and plastic straws meet their needs better than paper or metal straws. Additionally, by resetting the default from automatically providing single-use items to giving customers a choice, the intent is to reduce all types of single-use waste.

Want to do more? Choose to reuse

Reducing single-use items is great but avoiding them altogether is even better. Using “real” cutlery, cups and dishware is the greenest option. Here’s what you can do: 

  • Bring your own: Make or buy a “go-kit” of lightweight bamboo or metal cutlery to keep in your bag, car, or desk. 
  • Encourage restaurants and cafes to provide real cutlery and dishware for dine-in customers. (And thank those that already are.)

Learn more

Find answers to frequently asked questions and more at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/reduceplastic. Businesses serving food and beverages can download signs to notify customers of changes.

References:

  1. Packaging Material Attributes, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality
  2. Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter. Misconceptions, concerns and impacts on marine environments, United Nations Environment Programme