Cup Fee Canceled? City Council Reconsiders Business Waste Ordinance

At the April 18 Bainbridge Island City Council Study Session, in response to advocacy from the Chamber and strong feedback from the business community, council members will discuss recommended changes to BIMC 8.24 – the ‘Single Use Foodware and Waste Reduction’ Ordinance. The changes would be led by the repeal of the recently-imposed 25c cup fee.

On the back of pushback from both the ongoing Business Ambassador program and from in-person listening sessions, City Council’s Solid Waste Ad Hoc Committee (comprising of Mayor Fantroy-Johnson, and Council members Deets and Hytopoulos), the Chamber, along with our members and partners at the Downtown Association, are pleased to note that council will now formally consider 2 specific proposed changes to the existing ordinance:

1. The mandatory $0.25 fee for disposable cups should be replaced by a voluntary $0.25 incentive for customers who bring their own reusable cup.

While the intention of the cup fee was to educate customers on the hidden costs of single-use food ware, the actual effect was to make the staff of Island businesses the first point of contact around that idea. Council members now recognize that “since the mandatory fee went into effect, business owners report that they have felt excessively burdened by what they have perceived as the City’s expectation for them to provide environmental education to customers, some of whom are directing anger over the fee at employees”, and that “already burdened by high inflation, supply chain issues and a scarcity of labor, business owners are resenting the time and goodwill lost in these interactions.”

Consequently, “the Ad Hoc Committee is recommending that we shift to a voluntary incentive program which would still have educational value and should notably reduce the burden of the ordinance on business owners”.

2. Council should maintain the “home compostable” standard for disposable food service ware, but limit enforcement to a published list of specific items that have been already determined to be available and feasible, incrementally adding additional items that meet that standard.

When the council elected to require products be nominally ‘home compostable’, they did not foresee the practical difficulties in obtaining products that are clearly marked that way and readily available to businesses at reasonable prices. Making things worse, many products were compliant, but not effective – soup containers that leaked, food containers that melted on the way home etc. The result was a system where businesses had to apply for exemptions for many, many products, creating a backlog that city staff found it difficult to keep pace with.

“Between the burden on business owners and staff to research and track dozens of product types and the inefficiency of having to petition for exceptions rather than complying with a shorter list of bright line requirements, the Ad Hoc Committee is suggesting that the council replace the requirement that all food service ware be home compostable unless an exception is made, with a list of products that must be home compostable.”

In addition, council will also consider 2 further recommended actions:

1. Council should support the City Manager’s efforts to expand and modernize our solid waste policies and services to provide a fuller context and effect for the ordinance.

Business owners have expressed frustration over the city council’s decision to require “home compostable” food service products without also ensuring that all Island residents and businesses have access to composting facilities. That gap in services has left business owners feeling that they are disproportionately carrying the burden of waste reduction – and for no clear purpose if the waste in still going into the trash.

2. Council should create a recognition/incentive program for businesses that go beyond minimum compliance with the ordinance.

Because there will continue to be home compostable alternatives for products beyond the mandated list, and because we will want to encourage business owners to use as many of those alternatives as possible, the Ad Hoc Committee is recommending the development of a recognition/incentive program for those businesses that take that extra step.

The rationale for all the proposals are explained and supported by commentary in the agenda packet for the 04/17/23 meeting.

The potential retraction of the 25c cup fee follows a similar decision made recently by the Vancouver, BC City Council after finding the fee had been unsuccessful in discouraging the use of single use cups while putting unnecessary pressure on the business community.


Next Steps:

While this kind of change is rare at the council level, there is still much opportunity to be involved in finalizing the form of the proposed updates at a series of meetings, or by sending emails to council members and/or city staff:

Attend: The Chamber recommends that impacted local businesses watch tomorrow night’s council session (link below), or consider attending in person – this is item 3C on the agenda – scheduled for 7:10pm. As it is a study session, no public comment is taken, but being in the room sends a strong message of its own. Watch the meeting here: https://bainbridgewa.zoom.us/J/92947338351

Write: Alternatively, consider writing a letter to council or a letter to city staff supporting changes to the ordinance, and/or also noting specific products that have failed in use – making a mess that previous food service products protected against. These ‘performance failures’, if highlighted, can keep ineffective products from being required by the city (until they are replaced by superior alternatives).

Meet: Mayor Fantroy-Johnson and council members Deets and Hytopoulos will all be in attendance with Chamber staff at the next Coffee + Chat meeting to hear feedback on the proposal at 3pm on Wednesday April 26 at the Downtown Association Offices (147 Madrone Lane N). RSVP to let us know you are coming 

Comment: In order to go into effect, the proposed changes would have to be written up as an ordinance amendment and proposed for vote at a subsequent council meeting – so standing up at public comment then will also be a good time to get involved…

Stay tuned for updates, as things progress with regard to city council reconsidering the Business Waste Ordinance…


Learn More:

See the Ad Hoc Committee’s April 11 recommendations in full

City Staff’s accompanying memo on implementing the proposed changes

Chapter 8.24 of the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code

COBI Ordinance 2021-34 – Disposable Food Service Ware And Waste Reduction