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.
Effective January 1, 2017, District businesses and organizations that sell or serve food or beverages in the District must only use recyclable or compostable food service products. See the Compliant Products section below for further details.
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.
Beginning on January 1, 2017, businesses or organizations that sell or serve food in the District must use non-foam food service ware products defined as compostable or recyclable. DOEE intends the definition of compostable and recyclable to be tied to the Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables, which is expected to be published in the coming weeks. Though the Mayor’s List will ultimately determine which product types are compliant, DOEE expects the product types listed below to comply. If the Mayor’s list, when published, excludes a product type listed below, DOEE will update this list and, for 3 months thereafter, issue warnings rather than fines for use of that type of non-compliant product. Please email email@example.com or call (202) 671-0080 if you would like to be notified once the official Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables has been published.
Products are expected* to be considered recyclable if they are made of:
- #1: polyethylene terephthalate (PET),
- #2: high-density polyethylene (HDPE)
- #4: low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
- #5: polypropylene (PP)
- #6: polystyrene (PS)
- Uncoated molded pulp or paper
- Paperboard coated with a moisture or grease barrier coating, provided the coating is not made of wax or compostable plastic
Products are expected* to be considered compostable if they are:
- Made entirely of uncoated paper or plant fiber
- Certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (list of certified products can be found at products.bpiworld.org)
* The Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables, when published, will ultimately determine which product types are compliant.
You can most likely purchase compliant products wherever you currently purchase food service ware. Ask your supplier about compostable or recyclable products or view DOEE’s list of vendors that sell compliant products, attached below.
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.
Regulations for the 2017 compostable and recyclable requirements of the foam ban were published for public comment on October 28, 2016. View the regulations. The comment period for the proposed updates will last 30 days, ending at midnight on Sunday, November 27, 2016. Comments may be (1) mailed or hand-delivered to DOEE, 1200 First Street NE, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20001, Attention: DOEE Foam Regulations, or (2) sent by e-mail to DOEE.FoamRegulations@dc.gov, with the subject indicated as “DOEE Foam Proposed Rule Comments.”
Foam Ban Fact Sheet - Including translated versions
For more information, please contact 202-671-0080.