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Foam Free DC

If you suspect a business is in violation of the District’s Foam Ban, please review the requirements of the law below, then submit a tip or through 311.

The District of Columbia’s Foam Ban went into effect on January 1, 2016 banning businesses and organizations that serve food or beverages from using disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene (also known as foam or by its trade name Styrofoam TM) to serve consumers.

NEW: An amendment to the Foam Ban, with new requirements for stores and retail establishments, went into effect on January 1, 2021. The new requirements ban the retail sale of foam food service ware; foam storage containers, such as coolers and ice chests; and foam loose-fill packaging material, commonly known as packing peanuts.

Anacostia river Trash Clean Up
What is the purpose of the Foam Ban?   |   What impact has the Foam Ban had?
What are the requirements of the Foam Ban and who must comply?
How is DOEE enforcing the Foam Ban?

What is the purpose of the Foam Ban?

Foam and other small plastic items are easily blown by wind or washed by rain into storm drains and waterbodies including local rivers and streams. 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 and plastic items break down over time into microplastics. Birds, fish, and other wildlife may ingest the foam particles and microplastics, causing the polystyrene and other toxins to enter the food chain. Once in the food chain, these chemicals may impact human and wildlife health.

The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 ("the Act") bans the sale and use of disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene, also known as foam or by its trade name Styrofoam TM, and other products that cannot be recycled or composted. Under the Act, starting January 1, 2016, food service entities are banned from serving consumers with foam food ware.

Under an amendment to the Act, starting January 1, 2021, retailers are banned from selling foam food ware, foam storage containers like coolers, and foam packaging materials like packing peanuts to consumers at District stores and retail establishments.

For information on other food service ware material requirements in the Act, visit Material Requirements for Food Service Ware

What impact has the Foam Ban had?

In the five years since the Foam Ban went into effect in 2016, DOEE partners monitoring trash in the Anacostia River have noted a drop in foam entering the waters. An analysis of data from a trash trap located at Nash Run produced some compelling insights on the Foam Ban's effect, including:

  • In the first year of the Foam Ban, the proportion of foam dropped by just over half, going from 15% in 2015 to 7% in 2016.
  • As recently as 2010, 24% (almost one quarter) of captured trash consisted of foam, but by 2020 that figure had fallen to 3%.  
  • The cumulative average proportion of foam fell from 18% in the six-year period before the Foam Ban to 5% in the five-year period after the Foam Ban. 

In addition, DOEE has found over 96% of inspected businesses are complying with the Foam Ban, having successfully transitioned to non-foam food service ware alternatives. Neighboring jurisdictions of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties (in 2016) and the whole state of Maryland (in 2020) have also instituted bans that have kept our shared waterways cleaner.

What are the requirements of the Foam Ban and who must comply?

  Food Service Foam Ban  Retail Foam Ban
What products does the Foam Ban apply to? 

Any food service product designed for single use. These include:

  • Takeout containers 
  • Bowls  
  • Plates 
  • Trays 
  • Cups 
  • Cutlery 
  • Straws
  • Stirrers

Products made from expanded polystyrene (EPS), including but not limited to:

  • Food ware and other food service products (cups, plates, clamshells, etc.) 
  • Containers, such as coolers or ice chests 
  • Packaging material, including loose-fill materials like packing peanuts
What products does the Foam Ban NOT apply to?

The food service Foam Ban 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 
  • Food service ware purchased for home use

The retail Foam Ban does not apply to: 

  • Packaging materials made from foam that is not expanded polystyrene, including some foam rolls and inserts
  • Products that arrive to stores from outside the District already packaged in or with foam, such as eggs in foam cartons, instant noodles in foam cups, or fragile items with protective foam packaging.
Who is regulated by the Foam Ban?

Regulated entities include, but are not limited to: 

  • Bars 
  • Delis 
  • Cafes  
  • Schools 
  • Cafeterias 
  • Carry-outs 
  • Food trucks 
  • Restaurants 
  • Grocery stores 
  • Daycare providers 
  • Companies that provide free coffee to clients 
  • Churches that offer coffee or food to parishioners after a service 
  • Non-profit organizations that host events and provide food for attendees

Regulated entities include, but are not limited to: 

  • Grocery stores 
  • Drug stores 
  • Discount stores 
  • Specialty stores like sporting goods and party supplies retailers 
  • Printing and shipping service locations

top.jpg Regulations for the Foam Ban and the food service ware requirements are published in the DC Register.

How is DOEE enforcing the Foam Ban? 

DOEE currently enforces the Foam Ban for food service ware and issues fines. DOEE will begin actively inspecting retail businesses for the Foam Ban in January 2021 and will begin issuing fines for retail violations on July 1, 2021.

DOEE solicits tips from the public and conducts regular inspections to determine compliance.

Any additional questions?

For more information, please contact (202) 671-0080.
If you see a business using non-compliant products, leave a tip, use 311, or call (202) 671-0080.

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