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Food Service Ware

New requirements for single-use plastic straws and stirrers began on January 1, 2019. Fines for single-use plastic straws and stirrers began on July 1, 2019.
Compostable and Recyclable Food Service Ware Requirements began on January 1, 2017.
The District’s Foam Ban took effect on January 1, 2016.
If you see a business using non-compliant products,
leave a tip, use 311, or call (202) 815.4112.

What is the purpose of the law?   |   What are the requirements of the law? 
Who is regulated?   |   What products are allowed? 
Which items are banned and subject to enforcement?   |   How is DOEE enforcing this regulation?

What is the purpose of the law?
The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 bans the use of disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam or StyrofoamTM, and other products that cannot be recycled or composted. The banbegan on January 1, 2016 and applies to all District businesses and organizations that serve food. The additional recyclable and compostable requirements became effective on January 1, 2017. On October 29, 2018, new restrictions on the use of single-use plastic straws and stirrers took effect. DOEE began issuing official warnings and fines to businesses and organizations still providing single-use plastic straws and stirrers on July 1st, 2019.

Please note that DOEE recognizes some customers with disabilities require plastic straws as a reasonable accommodation to consume food or beverages. Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the DC Human Rights Act, some customers may request single-use plastic straws to consume food and beverages. Regulated entities must keep a stock of plastic straws available to meet these needs and remain compliant.

Anacostia river Trash Clean UpFoam 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.

For answers to frequently asked questions on the District’s food service ware material requirements, go to the attachments section at the bottom of this page.

What are the requirements of the law?
The law applies to any food service products designed for single use. These include take-out containers, bowls, plates, trays, cups, cutlery, straws, stirrers and other items.

The law does not apply to:top.jpg

  • 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

In addition, the 2017 compostable and recyclable requirements only apply to foods prepared for immediate consumption (grocery store produce sections, raw grains and pasta, etc. are exempt). The ban on foam food service ware still applies.

Regulations for the Foam Ban and the Food Service Ware requirements are published in the DC Register.

Who is regulated?
Business or organizations that sell or provide food or beverages are subject to the requirements of the law. These regulations apply to all food service ware products used to serve consumers. Examples of 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, and;
  • Non-profit organizations that host events and provide food for attendees.

What products are allowed?
Regulated entities must only use food service ware that is considered compostable or recyclable to serve consumers. DOEE defines recyclable and compostable according to the Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables. As of October 2018, the Mayor’s List was updated to exclude single-use plastic straws and stirrers from the list of acceptable items.

Banned Food Packaging Items in DC

Which items are considered compliant compostable and recyclable?


  • Products made solely of rigid* plastic, including:
    • #1: polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
    • #2: high-density polyethylene (HDPE)
    • #4: low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
    • #5: polypropylene (PP)
    • #6: rigid polystyrene (PS)
  •  Aluminum foil, pie pans and beverage containers   
  • Items made of pulp or paper, with or without a plastic or wax coating
  • Items certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (products.bpiworld.org)

Which items can be used but should be thrown out after use?

  • Compliant items smaller than two (2) inches in two dimensions*
    • Examples include utensils, small condiment cups, and other small plastic items
  • Plastic bags and other plastic films*
  • Heavily food-soiled items

Which items are banned and subject to enforcement?

  • Foil-lined deli paper wraps
  • Aluminum-coated paper to-go containers
  • Paper bags with plastic windows
  • Polystyrene (foam) containers including cups, bowls, and clamshells
  • Single-use plastic straws and stirrers

*Items smaller than 2 inches in two dimensions, plastic bags, and plastic wraps are not currently accepted by the District’s recycling program. However, certain private waste and recycling programs may accept these items in their recycling stream. Ask your provider if these items are currently accepted by your provider, or visit dpw.dc.gov/plasticbagremovaltop.jpg

Video IconCheck out more of these videos of some local businesses sharing examples of their successful conversion to recyclable or compostable foam-free alternative products: Culture Coffee, Queen Vic, Founding Farmers

Businesses can likely purchase compliant products wherever they currently purchase food service ware. Ask your supplier about recyclable or compostable products, or view DOEE’s list of vendors that sell compliant products.

How is DOEE enforcing this regulation?

DOEE currently enforces the ban on foam food service ware and recyclable and compostable requirements, issuing warning letters as well
as fines to entities that are not in compliance.

DOEE began inspecting businesses for compliance with the District’s single-use straw and stirrer requirements on January 1st, 2019, and may issues fines of up to $800 for violations.

DOEE solicits tips from the public and conducts regular inspections. After the period of compliance assistance has ended for the compostable and recyclable food service ware requirements, DOEE may issue warnings and fines for violations.

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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