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Foam Free DC

If you suspect a business is in violation of the District’s Food Service Ware Material Requirements, 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 and banned businesses and organizations that serve food or beverages from using disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam or Styrofoam TM, to serve consumers.

NEW: An amendment to the foam ban, with new requirements for stores and retail establishments, will go into effect on January 1, 2021. The new requirements prohibit 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.

What is the purpose of the law?   |   What impact has the foam ban had?
What are the requirements of the law and who is regulated?
How is DOEE enforcing this regulation?

What is the purpose of the law?

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 health.

The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 bans the sale and use of disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as foam or Styrofoam TM, and other products that cannot be recycled or composted. Effective January 1, 2016, food service entities are banned from serving consumers with foam food ware. Effective January 1, 2021, retailers are banned from selling foam food ware, storage containers like coolers, and packaging materials like packing peanuts. 

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 of the ban’s effect, including:

  • An immediate impact: In the first year of the ban, the proportion of foam dropped by just over half, going from 15% in 2015 to 7% in 2016, and has continued a steady decline since 
  • A dramatic difference over a decade: As recently as 2010, 24% - almost one quarter - of captured trash consisted of foam, but by 2020 that figure had fallen to 3%.  
  • A true transformation: The average proportion of foam fell from 18% in the six-year period before the ban to 5% in the five-year period after the ban. 

Anacostia river Trash Clean Up

In addition, DOEE has found over 96% of inspected businesses are complying with the 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 foam bans that have kept our shared waterways cleaner.

What are the requirements of the Foam Ban?

  Food Service Foam Ban  Retail Foam Ban
What products does it 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 it 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
Who is regulated by the law?

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 this regulation? 

DOEE currently enforces the food service ware foam ban. The retail foam ban goes into effect on January 1, 2021. DOEE will begin actively inspecting businesses for the retail 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) 815-4112.
If you see a business using non-compliant products, leave a tip, use 311, or call (202) 815-4112.

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