Local PFAS Timelines Among Most Progressive, Aggressive In The Nation
There’s A LOT happening in the world of consumer packaging and waste in the State of Washington and at the City of Bainbridge Island these days. In addition to the local waste reduction and food service ware item regulation imposed by COBI, the State also has new rules banning certain types of food packaging from having any kind of PFAS (petroleum-based plastic Per-and-PolyFluoroAlkyl substances) intentionally added to them. You may know PFAS by their more common identifier ‘forever chemicals’
As of this month, though state law RCW 70A.222.070 food packaging manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may no longer manufacture, sell, or distribute wraps, plates, food boats, pizza boxes with PFAS chemicals intentionally added. Each manufacturer must now be able to provide a certificate of compliance to any local business purchasing from them.
In the big picture, these actions are well-intended and their goals are ultimately all good. The petroleum-based PFAS plastics are widely linked to causing cancers, reproductive problems, and birth defects among many other negative personal health outcomes and large-scale environmental impacts, particularly for drinking water and fisheries.
The challenge here on Bainbridge Island there are two interlocking parallel processes happening at the state and city levels and a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to figure out how best to implement these changes especially as supplies remain limited and the technology for certain types of substitutes is still costly.
What Is Happening?
Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 1694 into law, making the removal of PFAS in consumer products mandatory in Washington state by 2025. There are waves of individual products included year by year. It is by far one of the fastest and most aggressive timelines in the nation.
Additionally, as many of us know, the City of Bainbridge Island has also adopted a Zero Waste strategy as part of its Climate Action Plan – among the most progressive in small cities in the nation. The plan, passed in Nov. 2020, acts as the island’s blueprint for not only mitigating climate change, but adapting to it.
In this case, the city has taken action by regulating single-use plastics and consumer packaging – like those used at restaurants, bakeries or takeaway coffee stands – to greatly reduce our carbon footprint by managing our waste stream. The city’s regulations also ban food packaging that use added PFAS chemicals.
Both measure focus on home compostable items which do not use PFAS on them and so if these items do get into our landfills or waterways, there are no PFAS chemicals to leech into the ground when they breakdown.
Why Are We Talking About This ?
So, what’s the deal? Why are people upset about regulating something that is known and has proven to be bad for our health and our environment?
Because these parallel policy directives at the state and city levels are now going into effect at the same time, it is leading to more confusion for small business owners will trying to do their part and remain compliant.
The first citywide regulations went into effect in January 2022 as described in Ordinance 2021-18. The second step, which rolled out in January 2023 included banning PFAS chemicals as part of moving to food packaging and single use items that were exclusively home compostable (Ordinance 2021-34).
Then, on Feb. 1, 2023, the state began to mandate that food packaging manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may not manufacture, sell, or distribute wraps, plates, food boats, or pizza boxes with PFAS chemicals intentionally added. To support this regulation, each manufacturer must provide businesses with a certificate assuring them that the products created and available for their purchases have not had PFAS intentionally added to them.
In May 2024 further regulation will occur at the state level when food packaging manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may not manufacture, sell, or distribute bags, sleeves, bowls, flat service ware, open-top containers, or closed containers with PFAS chemicals intentionally added.
Ultimately, in 2025 the state has set a goal of not allowing PFAS in any consumer packaging.
Why Does It Matter?
Many local businesses want to make these changes for our environment and for the health of all islanders, but right now, they are caught between wanting to do the right thing and the reality of supply chain issues, spiraling food service ware costs and the challenge of getting approved home compostable items with regularity and within a price they can afford.
At the state level, the bill takes this into account, saying that “safer alternatives must be readily available in sufficient quantity and at a comparable cost, and perform as well as or better than PFAS chemicals in a specific food packaging application.”
The city has also tried to address these challenges by creating a list of exemptions of products that are not yet commercially available on a practical scale. There is also now a system that allows local businesses to add items to the exemption list if they are not able to be sourced or purchased in a ‘reasonably feasible’ way. There is also a provision that allows businesses to continue utilizing their already-purchased existing inventory for three months (until March 31, 2023).
The Bainbridge Chamber recognizes both the city’s goals and the local business community’s needs. It has tried to bridge the gap between the two with advocacy and an innovative program that sends business ambassadors to visit owners at their locations to inform them of the changes, answer questions, gather feedback, and take it to City council members and staff.
What’s Next & What Can You Do?
The impact of PFAS chemicals on our environment, on human health and on our businesses is very real. However, there are opportunities for businesses and stakeholders to get involved to help guide their own fortunes as well as the future of our island.
- For its part, city staff has actively been researching and source a variety of compliant products that meet their standards. While it is not meant to be exhaustive, it can help local businesses in their own supply search – even down to discounts at some vendors. Download COBI’s Purchasing Guide as a pdf
- If you cannot source a suitable product for your business’ use case, the city also has adopted a exempted products list which can be found by going to the 2023 Waste Reduction Resources Page where you can also find:
- An online request form to have the city assess a product for compliance
- Temporary Waivers for Onsite Dining Requirements
- Information Regarding Reusable Cups and Containers
- Guidance around the 25c cup fee
- Posters for your business (both customer-facing and back-of-house)
- If your business needs to add an exemption for a temporary product, you can find the online form here.
- Every manufacturer of consumer packaging must submit their product to a statewide database for clearance by the Department of Ecology and provide a certificate of compliance on demand from any business customer.
While you can always give your feedback to City Council directly at any Regular Business Meeting during Public Comment, there are ongoing community conversations around this for business owners and community stakeholders to engage with city staff and councilmembers, including monthly Coffee & Chat sessions alongside other community listening events.
Two such upcoming events are:
- March 4th @10am – Join a public session with Central Ward City Councilmembers Clarence Moriwaki, Kirsten Hytopoulos, and Leslie Schneider as well as City Manager Blair King at City Hall.
- March 22 @ 3pm – Join a coffee and chat session with city council members, city staff, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association for an informal conversation about the new waste reduction ordinances at the Downtown Association’s Offices, 147 Madrone Ave. N. The session is open to all affected Bainbridge Island businesses and community stakeholders. It is meant to provide information and resources, collect feedback from businesses, identify common problems, and generate potential solutions.
Finally, there are two more ways for local businesses to find help:
- Assistance can come to you – Bainbridge’s Business Ambassadors are now in their 2nd year of visiting all impacted businesses each quarter – they are there only to update, help and advise local owners and managers about the current regulations…
- Both the Downtown Association and the Chamber of Commerce are always here to answer questions, provide support, and help you in any interactions with the city, the county, and the state. Reach out today!
- PFAS in Food Packaging – Department of Ecology of Washington State
- 2023 Waste Reduction Resources Page – City of Bainbridge Island
- Climate Action Plan – City of Bainbridge Island
- House Bill 1694 – 2021-22 – Washington State Legislature
- City Ordinance Ordinance 2021-34 – City of Bainbridge Island
- Resources about PFAS, ‘Forever Chemicals’ – The Seattle Times
- PFAS Chemicals – Washington State Department of Health
- “New Washington State Bill IS The ‘Fastest Timeline In The Nation’ For Phasing Out PFAS” – Environmental Health News