You may have noticed more food service providers changing the kinds of disposable utensils you get with takeout. In Seattle, a ban on plastic straws and cutlery officially kicks in this weekend. As of July 1, all eateries in city limits are required to provide straws and utensils that can be composted.
The city estimates it has about 5,000 permitted food service businesses. The law extends to all of them. Many are already in compliance, but some face special challenges.
QQ Taiwanese Bites is a new place on Sixth Avenue and Battery Street. The concept is high-quality fast-casual authentic Chinese food. Simple décor with an industrial feel is brightened up by bold murals inside, giving it a modern contemporary feel.
Owner and founder Yuling Wong has a well-known sit-down restaurant in Bellevue called Facing East, where you can still find plenty of plastic takeout containers. But at this outpost in Seattle, she wanted to only use compostables.
“I tried to do 100 percent,” she said, adding that she first got the idea a few years ago after a trip to a Molly Moon’s ice cream shop in Seattle. All the takeout containers there were compostable.
“It really hit me,” Wong said. “We all have to do our part,” to help reduce waste and keep plastics out of the world’s oceans.
But she says there’s a lot more to consider when you’re serving hot stews, stir fry, soups and other Asian specialties.
“There are some parts I can’t really find it, in compostable,” she said.
Wong says she spent a couple of years looking for containers at trade shows. She managed to find most items needed, so more than 90 percent of what she uses for takeout here is compostable.
Her beverages come in custom-made glass jars, with recyclable plastic lids. Containers for salads and main dishes are made of plant-based plastics, including special soup spoons. Most of the straws are paper.
But manager Ya Chien Ho says the one item they couldn’t source sustainably is the colorful jumbo straws used to suck up the chewy tapioca balls in their bubble tea.
“It’s a very special one because it’s very big. And different than regular straws. So I think we try our best,” Ho said.
Many Seattle bubble tea shops have struggled with the lack of compostable jumbo straws, which typically have a slanted end that’s used to puncture the tops of heat-sealed plastic containers.
Even newer shops that have worked with the city and the nonprofit Lonely Whale, which is promoting the straw ban nationally, are finding it challenging.
At 20 oz Tea on Eastlake, the owners special-ordered paper jumbo straws. But even after working with the manufacturer to get them made in a thicker grade of paper, they still get complaints that the straws disintegrate in the cup if left standing too long by patrons wanting to savor their tea for more than a half hour or so. For now, their solution is to offer a second or third straw if customers complain.
When the ban kicks in, eateries are allowed to use up the inventory they have on hand as long as they let the utility know.
QQ owner Wong says she’ll probably be offering compostable spoons along with the smaller paper straws till she finds a better alternative. She hopes her customers won’t miss the jumbo straws too much.
“I guess consumers will just have to get used to it,” she said. But she hopes an entrepreneur steps up soon to fill this market niche .
The good faith Wong and others are showing is what compliance officers with Seattle Public Utilities are looking for, for now.
The ban on plastic straws starts July first, but city officials say its broader goal is waste reduction.
They’ll be working with food service providers to help them come into compliance and won’t start charging the $250 fine stipulated in the law for another year.