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You'll have to ask for plastic utensils and straws at Washington restaurants starting Jan. 1

Under the new law, customers must request condiments, straws and utensils with their food orders at restaurants or bring their own reusable ones.

SPOKANE, Wash — Customers will soon have to ask workers for utensils, condiments or straws when ordering food, as Washington restaurants will no longer automatically include single-use items in orders starting Saturday, Jan. 1. 

A new state law will restrict the use of single-use food service items with food orders in restaurants, cafeterias, and other food services providers and ban packaged bundles of single-use items to help reduce unnecessary waste.

“Automatically including disposable silverware, straws and condiments with every order creates a huge amount of waste, much of which ends up littering our roads and damaging our environment, " Laurie Davies, manager of the Solid Waste program at the Washington State Department of Ecology, said.

According to a 2021 Upstream report, about one trillion single-use food service products are disposed or littered each year in the United States.

Under the new law, customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable items to help reduce single-use waste. However, customers can still request individual items if needed by asking for them in advance when placing an order, confirming their choice when asked, or selecting the item they want from a self-serve station.

Single-use items covered by the new requirement include the following:

  • Plastic utensils such as knives, forks, spoons, and chopsticks
  • Cocktail picks, splash sticks, and stirrers
  • Straws
  • Condiment packets, sachets, or sauce cups
  • Cold cup lids, except those provided at drive-through windows or events with over 2,500 people.

Washington's plastic bag ban went into effect on Oct. 1, 2021, meaning residents must use reusable bags when they head to the store. But others who forget their bags have been paying an eight-cent fee for using recycled ones at the stores.

The state Department of Ecology encourages people to explore sustainable options for reusable travel utensils and develop habits that keep those items clean and available for use on the go, when the new single-use utensils law goes in effect on Jan. 1.