The District’s foam ban took effect on January 1, 2016.
The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 bans the use of food service products made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam or StyrofoamTM. The ban began on January 1, 2016 and applies to all District businesses and organizations that serve food.
Foam is easily blown by wind or washed by rain into storm drains and waterbodies. As a result, foam litter is one of the most common types of trash found in the Anacostia River. In addition to being unsightly, toxic chemicals stick to the surface of foam particles. Birds, fish, and other wildlife may ingest the foam particles, causing the polystyrene and other toxins to enter the food chain. Once in the food chain, these chemicals may impact human health.
Foam takes hundreds of years to break down and does not decompose. As a result, foam occupies significant space in landfills. Recyclable and compostable alternatives, however, can be reconstituted into other useful products.
For answers to frequently asked questions on the District’s foam ban, go to the attachments section at the bottom of this page.
Requirements of the Law
Effective January 1, 2016, it is illegal for businesses and organizations that serve food to use food service products made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam or StyrofoamTM.
The law applies to any food service products designed for one-time use. These include take-out containers, bowls, plates, trays, cups, and other items.
The law does not apply to:
- Food or beverages filled and sealed in foam containers before an entity receives them (e.g., foam cartons of eggs packaged outside of the District)
- Materials used to package raw, uncooked, or butchered meat, fish, poultry, or seafood
- Foam food service products purchased for home use
Business or organizations that sell or provide food are subject to the requirements of the law. Examples of regulated entities include, but are not limited to, restaurants, carryouts, cafes, delis, grocery stores, bars, cafeterias, and food trucks. Other examples include companies that provide free coffee to clients, non-profit organizations that host a breakfast and provide food for attendees, and churches that offer coffee to parishioners after a service.
Purchasing Acceptable Products
Compliant alternatives are readily available for purchase and are often made of recyclable or compostable materials. You can most likely purchase compliant products wherever you currently purchase food service ware. Ask your supplier about non-foam alternatives or view DOEE’s list of vendors that sell compliant products, attached below.
Businesses and organizations switching from foam products to other products may be able to save money through cooperative purchasing. Through this purchasing scheme, several businesses or organizations jointly buy a large volume of products from the same distributor. Cooperative purchasing agreements are often facilitated by third parties.
Interested in examples of foam-free alternative products? Check out these videos of some local businesses sharing examples of their foam free alternative products:
La Mano, Culture Coffee,
Queen Vic, Founding Farmers
DOEE will first assist regulated entities with achieving compliance through outreach and education. DOEE will also solicit tips from the public and conduct regular inspections, issuing warning letters to entities that are not in compliance. After the period of compliance assistance has ended, DOEE may issue fines to food service providers that continue to distribute foam products.
Requirements of the Law
Final regulations for the foam ban were published in the DC Register on December 25, 2015. These regulations clarify how DOEE implements the ban.
Foam Ban Fact Sheet - Including translated versions
For more information, please contact 202-645-6988.