By Nicole Vukonich
According to the United Nations Environment Program, researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s and about 60 percent of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment around the world.
With a heightened sense of urgency, the Legislature considered bills this session addressing environmental concerns beginning with the elimination of single-use plastic waste. Washington Hospitality Association members indicated early on that protecting the environment and doing what they could to help as an industry was a priority. Following this direction, the State Government Affairs team positioned the hospitality industry as solutions-oriented on these issues and worked with lawmakers and stakeholders to ensure that any new environmental and sustainability requirements would allow hospitality businesses to reasonably comply.
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Following Seattle’s lead, Senate Bill 5077 was introduced to prohibit single-use plastic straws. In its original form, this bill proposed to prohibit the use or sale of any straw not made of paper. The bill did not prohibit local governments from enacting additional city or county laws about the issue. While opposed to the original version of the bill, the state team worked all session to amend the bill to give the hospitality industry the flexibility to comply with the law and secured language to create one statewide standard, thus prohibiting local governments from enacting their own laws. Despite efforts to come to the table and get to a place where the industry was supportive, the bill did not ultimately pass this session.
Plastic bag bans are common in cities across Washington, however, bills this session planned to create a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Of the bills introduced addressing plastic bag bans, the State Government Affairs team got to a supportive position on Senate Bill 5323 (House Bill 1205), as it contained a provision that would still allow hospitality industry members to use single-use plastic bags for carry out food, thus allowing them to be in compliance with state Department of Health regulations and current food safety rules. This bill passed in the Senate and made it through committees in the House before stopping in the House Rules Committee, the last stop before a vote on the floor of the House. This was the farthest any type of statewide plastic bag ban has ever gone in the legislative process.
Plastic packaging was also the focus of legislation this session in House Bill 1632. The Washington Hospitality Association was the first to support this bill because of the comprehensive and reasonable approach it took to phasing out single-use plastic items like straws, cutlery and condiment packaging by 2030. Sadly, this bill did not pass this session.
The one bill addressing plastic packaging that did pass this session involves a study by the Department of Ecology assessing and evaluating the amount and types of plastic packaging sold in the state, in addition to its management and disposal. The study’s report is due to the Legislature by Oct. 30, 2020.
While single-use plastic waste is easier to detect as an environmental pollutant, there are also harmful chemicals that leech into the environment and the air, causing damage unseen to the naked eye. This session, the Legislature passed bills to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a reliance on ozone-depleting substances. The Washington Hospitality Association remained neutral on these topics.
With a growing emphasis on protecting the environment and addressing single-use plastic waste, these bills and topics will return next session.