The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 and the Zero Waste Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020 both include requirements related to food service waste that have been introduced in phases. The District passed these laws to protect local rivers from trash pollution and to reduce the amount of waste that ends up landfilled or incinerated.
The District’s food service ware requirements consist of four parts:
[NEW!] Reducing Food Service Waste: District food-serving entities and third-party food ordering platforms must only provide disposable utensils and other small items if first requested by the customer.
Foam Ban: Food service ware, storage containers, and packing materials made from expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam, are banned from use or retail sale in the District.
Food Service Ware Material Requirements: District restaurants and other food-serving institutions must only use food service ware determined to be compostable or recyclable to serve consumers. More information can be found on this page.
A ban on single-use plastic straws: Plastic straws are not recyclable or compostable and violate the food service ware material requirements. See Our Last Straw and information on the page below for more details.
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.
For any and all questions about food service ware material requirements, contact [email protected].
Who and what is regulated?
Businesses and organizations that sell or provide food or beverages are subject to the requirements of both the foam ban and the compostable and recyclable requirements. The law applies to any food service products designed for single use. These include takeout containers, bowls, plates, trays, cups, cutlery, straws, stirrers, and other items.
Examples of regulated entities include, but are not limited to:
- Food trucks
- Grocery stores
- Daycare providers
- Companies providing free coffee to clients
- Churches offering coffee or food to parishioners at a service
- Non-profit organizations hosting events and providing food for attendees
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
In addition, the 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.
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.
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.
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)
Food service ware made of recyclable materials shouldn’t automatically be put in the recycling bin. Food service ware should be thrown in the trash if they are:
- 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
For more information on what should and shouldn’t be put in the recycling bin, visit zerowaste.dc.gov.
Which items are banned and subject to enforcement?
In addition to the aforementioned foam containers (including cups, bowls, and clamshells) and single-use plastic straws and stirrers, the following items are banned due to their inability to be composted or recycled:
- Foil-lined deli paper wraps
- Aluminum-coated paper to-go containers
- Paper bags with plastic windows
*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
Check 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
How is DOEE enforcing this regulation?
DOEE currently enforces the foam ban and the food service ware requirements, issuing warning letters as well as fines to entities that are not in compliance. DOEE solicits tips from the public and conducts regular inspections to determine compliance.