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Food Packaging Requirements

The Food Service Packaging 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 or call (202) 671-0080.

Effective January 1, 2017, new regulations mandate District businesses and organizations that sell or serve food or beverages in the District to exclusively use recyclable or compostable food service products.

Packaging waste occupies a significant amount of limited space available in our landfills. Recyclable and compostable alternatives, however, can be reconstituted into other useful products. The District is implementing regulations on the materials which can be used to serve food to reduce our waste.
Food Service Packaging
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, 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

Regulations for the 2017 compostable and recyclable requirements are based on the Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables, which was published on December 21, 2016.

Final regulations for the 2017 food service packaging requirements were published in the DC Register on February 3, 2017.

Regulated Entities
Business or organizations that sell or provide food 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,
  • Cafeterias,
  • Carry-outs,
  • Food trucks,
  • Restaurants,
  • Grocery stores,
  • Daycare providers,
  • Companies that provide free coffee to clients,
  • Churches that offer coffee to parishioners after a service, and;
  • Non-profit organizations that host a breakfast and provide food for attendees.

Compliant Products
DOEE defines recyclable and compostable according to the Mayor’s List of Recyclables and Compostables. DOEE will issue warnings for the first 90 days after the effective date so that regulated entities have enough time for the transition to compliant products.
Banned Food Packaging Items in DC

Compliant Compostable and Recyclable Items

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

Compostable and Recyclable Items to Discard

  • Compliant items smaller than two (2) inches in two dimensions
    • Examples include plastic coffee stirrers, utensils, straws, and small condiment cups*
  • Heavily food-soiled items

Items 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

*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/plasticbagremoval

Businesses will most likely be able to 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.

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

Enforcement of the District’s Food Packaging Requirements will begin on January 1st, 2018. 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.

For more information, please contact (202) 671-0080.

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