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Environment

Law to reduce plastic waste, ban polystyrene foam statewide passes House floor vote

It looks increasingly likely that Washington will ban plastic foam, reduce plastic waste and strengthen recycling markets. A bill to that effect is nearly through the Legislature.

E2SSB 5022 passed a house floor vote Wednesday night, 73-24. Rep. Liz Berry, the prime sponsor in the House, spoke before the vote.

“The bill before you tonight is groundbreaking. It is a real chance to reduce our climate impact, to take a huge step away from plastic waste and towards environmentally friendly packaging,” said Berry, a Democrat from Seattle.

“I am so proud that Washington state is a national leader on these issues and this bill will set the strongest policy in the country on recycling and reducing plastic pollution.”

Backers of the bill say the main reason for their success is public outcry.

“We've had an incredible growth in the awareness of plastic pollution and amazing public support for taking care of plastics. People don't want it anymore. They're sick of it,” said Heather Trim, executive director of the nonprofit Zero Waste Washington.  

She says China’s announcement in 2018 that it would no longer accept the world’s dirty plastics created a reckoning here. People learned that only about 10 percent of the plastics we put out for recycling actually stay out of landfills.

And so this bill addresses both the plastic pollution and fixing – helping fix – our recycling system,” Trim said.  

A champion of that is Sen. Mona Das, who believes the issues and awareness are rising above typical partisan politics and attracting bipartisan support.

“We have the technology. We just need the will," Das said. “We should no longer be producing anything that's not recyclable, compostable or reusable. There's just no -- there's no reason for it in 2021.” 

Das is a Democrat from Kent, where plastic foam is still widely used and has been even more noticeable during the pandemic, with people getting more takeout food. She’s excited for the statewide ban, which would start in roughly three years, in June 2024. (Foam packing peanuts would be banned a year sooner.) But she’s also proud of language in the bill about "producer responsibility" – a concept she says other states are expected to take up soon.

“You know, the manufacturers are the ones that make the choices, and the consumers are left holding the proverbial bag, if you will. And we have to figure out what to do about it,” Das said.

She expects Oregon and California to follow Washington’s example, then she says other states after that.

The bill requires minimum amounts of recycled plastic in plastic bottles and trash bags that are sold or manufactured in Washington. This is meant to help boost market demand for recycled plastic resin – and to help big companies such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Unilever live up to promises they have already made with minimum-content pledges.

The policy would also reduce plastic waste by requiring customers to "opt in" before food providers include plastic utensils, straws, condiment packets and plastic lids in takeout orders.  

The legislation now heads back to the Senate for concurrence. After that, it can head to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signing.

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