Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Bruce Harrell Announces Work on Establishing Buying Co-op
Effort Intended to Give Food Establishments Buying Power to Purchase Compostable Containers
SEATTLE – In response to increased costs to businesses as a result of a bill passed last year by the City Council prohibiting food service establishments from serving food in containers made of expanded polystyrene, Councilmember Harrell is proposing a buying co-op that would combine the collective purchasing power of local food service businesses to reduce the cost of compostable products.
Passed last July, the disposable bag fee legislation was created to reduce harm to the environment caused by plastic bags and other disposable products by decreasing the bulk of solid waste stored in the City’s landfills. The legislation banned polystyrene containers as of January 1 and requires food service businesses to use compostable products instead. Councilmember Bruce Harrell, a member of the City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, is concerned about the economic burden placed on food establishments by the shift to compostable products. Some restaurant owners report that using compostable products has raised their container costs 35 to 40 percent – a significant increase for any business, but one that is a particular hardship on small establishments. In addition, increased costs are likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Councilmember Richard McIver, Chair of the Housing and Economic Development Committee, agrees. “The City’s efforts regarding environmental sustainability have a cost attached, and when we can offset these costs, we should.”
The University of Washington recently switched to compostable products, and because its purchasing volume is high, is able to negotiate lower prices than small businesses can. Prior to the polystyrene ban, the University served foods in plastic containers costing 18 cents each. Now, the University serves food in containers made from sugar cane, straw and reed, which cost 4 cents less than plastic ware. But a small business would expect to pay 25 to 30 cents for the same compostable containers.
“This is a significant cost increase,” says Harrell, “and because the City has imposed the ban, it is our obligation to create supportive policies that enable small businesses to remain viable and self-sustaining in a competitive industry”.
Josh McDonald, the Washington Restaurant Association’s government affairs coordinator for King County, supports Harrell’s plans. “Our members understand the importance of environmental sustainability and fully support it,” McDonald said. “However, they don’t want to see the law automatically equate to higher prices, particularly when businesses and their customers are already under economic stress.”
Harrell plans to work with the Department of Economic Development, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Conservation Voters, and the Washington Restaurant Association to build a network of small businesses in the food services sector. Harrell says, “Once the co-op is created, any fears small food service businesses have over purchasing new products will be alleviated because they will possess the power to buy compostable products at a lower cost.”
Last September, Seattle Public Utilities began conducting outreach to small business to facilitate the transition to compostable products. The ordinance prohibited the use of polystyrene containers effective January 1, 2009, but allows food service businesses to utilize plastic food service ware until July 1, 2010.
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