PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Wednesday, the Oregon Senate approved a bill that will allow Oregonians to use food containers from home at local restaurants.
Sen. Janeen Sollman was the chief sponsor for Senate Bill 545, which calls on the Oregon Health Authority and the state Department of Agriculture to adopt the new food container rules for restaurants, which would take effect by Dec. 31, 2023.
“Reducing food container waste is good for our environment,” Sen. Sollman said in a statement. “This is a simple, sensible change that will encourage a more sustainable and resilient future for ourselves and generations to come.”
Brittany Snipes, who owns The Realm Refillery along with Ryan Knowles, agreed.
Located in Northeast Portland, The Realm Refillery is a specialty grocery store that allows customers to buy as many or as few groceries as they need, by bringing their own reusable containers instead of buying pre-packaged products that often come in bigger quantities.
Snipes says she didn’t know there were state regulations against reusable food containers in restaurants and retail shops when she first moved to Oregon in 2020. When she and her business partner were in the beginning stages of launching their package-free grocery store, ODA told them that it wasn’t allowed.
The Realm Refillery still opened in May 2022, but because of state law, its customers were using containers provided and sanitized by the store instead of ones from home.
“We were like, ‘We’re just gonna open because we didn’t know that that was a law in the state. There’s gonna be plenty of other people that don’t know as well,’” Snipes said. “‘Let’s open. Let’s get everyone informed about how this is a problem and how it makes it really inaccessible to shop.’”
She added that The Realm Refillery worked with non-profit environmental organization Surfrider Foundation to advocate for reusable containers in retail establishments.
Surfrider’s Oregon chapter spearheaded the Clean up the Oregon Health Code campaign, which played a big role in the updated Retail Food Code that allowed customers to use household food containers in retail stores, as of early February.
Next, SB 545 will be introduced to the Oregon House of Representatives. If the measure is approved, Oregon restaurants could join the retail stores that now allow customers to swap out single-use plastics for more sustainable alternatives — as long as they’re clean and dry.
“[The new rules are] in full swing now,” Snipes said. “It has made a huge improvement in our busyness. People felt really restricted by the system that had to be in place… You just don’t want to add more clutter to your kitchen. You want to use what you already have.”