SALEM – Oregon may soon allow customers to bring their own reusable food containers to grocery stores and restaurants in an effort to curb plastic waste.
The Statesman Journal reports that’s not currently allowed under U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, which Oregon has adopted, because of the potential for cross-contamination with pathogens or allergens.
But pressure to change state regulations has been mounting, state officials said, following China’s decision in January 2018 to stop allowing many items from the U.S. to be imported for recycling.
Since then, Oregonians have thrown away more than 16,000 tons of previously recyclable items, much of them single-use plastics like take-out containers.
“People are looking for ways to reduce the waste stream,” said Isaak Stapleton, Food Safety Program director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Calls for a rule change intensified after the state cracked down on a program at First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis, which had for years been washing containers returned by customers and offering them for reuse. Its customers submitted a petition to state regulators.
Oregon is starting with a look at rules for grocery stores, which ODA licenses and inspects.
Rule changes for restaurants likely will soon follow, said Dave Martin, Foodborne Illness Prevention Program coordinator at the Oregon Health Authority. OHA licenses and inspects restaurants, through county health departments.
Not all retailers are on board, though.
At an ODA-led meeting in August, grocery chain representatives worried about cross-contamination, and pointed out additional concerns.
Among them: The possibility of theft if the containers aren’t clear; consumers using containers not meant to be used multiple times; and problems getting an accurate tare weight, or the weight of the container before it’s filled.
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