Single-Use Plastic Restrictions in Bellingham

There are two new state and one local measures aimed at reducing single-use plastics in Bellingham. Taken as a whole, these measures tackle a large and growing set of problems caused by rapid increase in plastic products that are used once and then discarded. These include the climate effects of ever-growing petroleum-based plastic production, human and animal impacts from the breakdown of plastic in the environment, a collapse in the global market for plastic recycling, and growing litter problems. The local impact of this new legislation is summarized below.

Bellingham’s single-use plastics ordinance

Passed by Bellingham City Council in 2021, Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) 9.32 aims to reduce single-use plastic products in food service and lodging industries. The ordinance requires that durable food service wares such as plates, utensils and cups be used instead of disposables for on-site dining. The ordinance also prohibits provision of most single-use plastic utensils, straws, plates, containers, and packaging for restaurant takeout or delivery; instead, businesses can use reusable or provide compostable service wear. Lodging businesses may no longer stock rooms with travel sized toiletries such as shampoo, soap and lotion.

To help impacted businesses navigate this ordinance, the City has partnered with Sustainable Connections to provide ongoing support. Sustainable Connections has developed a product purchasing guide and is running a help desk where they can provide support for specific questions businesses might have. Visit their website for more information. 

Businesses seeking a waiver for on-premise dining establishments that do not have on-site or off-site dishwashing capacity or businesses requesting an exemption to one or more single-use plastic items can complete the Single-Use Plastic Waste Compliance Waiver or Exemption Request Form.

Enforcement of this ordinance will fall to the City of Bellingham. The City will use an education-first approach to violations, with the possibility of penalties of up to $250 per day for the first 20 days on non-compliance and $500 per day after day 20. Businesses out of compliance may receive a letter noting that they are in violation. To report non-compliant businesses, please complete this form and the City will work with the business on becoming compliant with BMC 9.32.

FAQ for Bellingham Ordinance 2021-05-023

Food Service Businesses

At dining establishments where food is eaten on the premises.

Never, plastic food service wear and utensils, including straws, are banned under this ordinance; when offering single-use cutlery, they must be compostable.

Plastic straws can be provided upon request to accommodate people with disabilities.

Yes, the following food service items are exempt until January 1, 2023. The exemption period can be extended if limited alternative products are available.

  • Produce bags
  • Catering trays
  • Clear food wrap and shrink wrap
  • Containers uniquely shaped for foods, e.g., deviled eggs and cupcakes
  • Flexible plastic packaging used to preserve moisture and freshness such as for cookies
  • Containers or trays for hot meat items such as for rotisserie chicken or ribs
  • Small absorbent pads under meat or seafood to absorb liquids in the package.

It will go into effect July 31, 2022.

The City of Bellingham will enforce this ordinance. An education-first approach will be taken.

Lodging Businesses

No, small, plastic bottles for personal care products (shampoo, lotion, soap) can no longer be provided in rooms.

Use wall-mounted refillable containers.

Yes, to accommodate people with disabilities, small bottles can be provided to customers upon request.

It will go into effect July 31, 2022.

The City of Bellingham will enforce this ordinance. An education-first approach will be taken.

State Senate Bill 5022 requires customer request for utensils, cup lids and condiments

Image showing items that are included in single-use plastic ban, including knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks, cocktail picks, splash sticks, stirrers, straws, cold cup lids, and sauce or condiment packets.

Effective January 1, 2022, State Senate Bill 5022 requires restaurants and food service businesses to only give customers disposable service ware upon request, including plastic utensils, straws, cup lids for cold beverages, and condiments.

Restaurants and businesses providing food service may have single-use items and condiments made available in containers or dispensers for customer selection if desired; utensils must not be bundled together to allow the customer to select only what they need. There are a few exceptions to the provisions; for example, cup lids can be provided without customer request at large public gatherings such as sporting events. For more information on State Senate Bill 5022, please refer to the Department of Ecology’s website.

FAQ for State Senate Bill 5022

Utensils, straws, cold beverage cup lids, and condiment packages can be provided only after a customer requests one. Utensils are not to be bundled together so that a customer is not required to take more utensils than needed.

January 1, 2022

Yes, long-term care facilities, senior nutrition programs, services to individuals with development disabilities, and state hospitals are exempt. And, cup lids can be provided without request under the following circumstances:

  • Hot beverages
  • Food delivery or pickup
  • Drive through pickup
  • Large sport or music events

Yes, single-use items and condiments may be made available in containers or dispensers for customer selection if desired.

The state will enforce this law.

State Senate Bill 5323 Replaces Bellingham’s Plastic Bag Ban

Graphic showing that no single-use plastic carry bags are allowed. Large paper carryout bags and thick reusable plastic carryout bags are allowed for 8 cents each. Compostable bags are allowed but not recommended.

On October 1, 2021 the State Senate Bill 5323 ban on plastic bags replaced the City of Bellingham’s ordinance that has regulated plastic bag use since 2012. Enforcement of the plastic bag ban will now be in the State’s control.

  • Plastic bags will be prohibited at all retail businesses including grocery stores, retail stores, clothing stores and restaurants.
  • Retailers who wish to provide a large paper carryout bag must charge a fee of 8 cents per bag and the bags must contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and meet composting requirements.
  • Retailers who wish to provide a thicker plastic bag (2.25+ mils) must charge a fee of 8 cents per bag and the bags must contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content.
  • For more information on State Senate Bill 5323, please refer to the FAQ or visit the Department of Ecology’s website.

FAQ for State Senate Bill 5323

On October 1, 2021, the State Senate Bill 5323 replaced Bellingham’s Single-Use Carry Out Bag Ordinance.

All retail businesses, including restaurants. Food banks and food relief agencies may continue to use thin plastic bags under this new law.

Yes, now restaurants are included in the bag ban. The fee to purchase a bag will now be 8 cents per bag (an increase from 5 cents) and the fee will increase to 12 cents per bag by 2026.

Retailers can provide a paper bag or thicker (2.25 mils) plastic bag at checkout for a fee. On October 1, 2021, the fee per bag will be 8 cents; that fee will increase to 12 cents by 2026.

No, low-income customers are exempt from bag charges.

No, the ban is on plastic bags that are under 2.25 mils thick. Exceptions to the single-use plastic bag ban includes those used by customers inside stores for:

  • Bulk items
  • Produce
  • Frozen food
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Flowers
  • Potted plants
  • Prepared food or bakery goods
  • Prescription drugs

These bags are also exempt:

  • Dry cleaner bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Door hanger bags
  • Laundry bags
  • Bags sold in packages with multiple bags, like food storage, garbage, or pet waste

The thicker, stronger bags (more than 2.25 mils) have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available. These bags must still be made of at least 20% post-consumer recycled content and have the recycled content printed on the side of the bag. In 2025, the required thickness increases to 4 mil.

Effective October 1, 2021, the state will be in charge of enforcement. The state plans to enforce by complaint, with a possible fee of $250 for violation.

Anyone may submit an observation of businesses not in compliance by using the Department of Ecology reporting form available on their website.

More Information