Policy report: Changes coming to reusable container rules

By Aimee Simpson

This article was originally published in October 2019

Obstacles to needed change come in many forms. Take plastic, for example: We know that single-use plastic is a problem—a big problem. Beyond PCC’s internal efforts of switching to compostable deli containers and setting a goal of eliminating plastic from its deli by 2022, we also know that shoppers want to do their part, such as bringing their own food containers to stores.

The unexpected hurdle to encouraging reusable containers, however, isn’t the lack of retailer ambition, inadequate supply chain options, or customer willingness, but rather the food safety rules in Washington state. As written, existing food safety laws don’t allow many customers to bring in reusable food containers. From a food safety perspective, there is concern about potential cross-contamination if customers bring in containers that have not been properly cleaned.

The good news is that while the regulatory process can be arduous, because of the demands of consumers like you, retailers like PCC and other advocates, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has already started working to change the rules. Beginning in July, DOH met with groups and individuals across the state (PCC included) to share their first round of proposed rules.

As we lay out in our first round of comments (visit this link), many of the proposed changes in the DOH’s food safety rules are a step in the right direction to allowing customers and stores more freedom in expanding reusable container programs. Many of the changes, however, don’t go far enough, which is why we will continue to push for the change that we know our environment needs and our customers demand.

DOH anticipates that the first official publication of the proposed rule will be coming out at the start of 2020. Watch for announcements in PCC Advocates, our e-newsletter on emerging issues in food and agriculture, about when you can weigh in on the proposed rule changes. (You can sign up at pccmarkets.com/newsletters.) Until that time, know that PCC is working hard on the inside and outside to make meaningful change in our fight against plastic.

NOSB Alert!

The fall National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting will be taking place in Pittsburgh, PA on Oct. 23-25. Comments are due on Oct. 3 so check out the National Organic Program website and look for a PCC Advocates announcement on what issues are a top priority for the fall meeting!


Aimee Simpson, J.D., is PCC’s director of product sustainability.

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