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Reducing Food Service Waste

The Zero Waste Omnibus Amendment Act, signed in December 2020, furthers the District of Columbia’s goal of 80% waste diversion from landfills and incinerators by 2032. One of the ways the law seeks to address waste and plastics pollution is by reducing the usage and distribution of disposable items, such as utensils, napkins, condiment packages, and straws, at restaurants and other food-serving entities. This applies to both on-site dining and takeout or delivery orders.

New Requirement for Food Ordering Platforms

Third-party food ordering platforms are a popular way for some customers to order food. Items like disposable utensils and condiment packages are often included with these orders even though the customers are generally consuming the meals at home. If they do not need these disposable items, they often end up as trash and make it more difficult to meet Zero Waste goals.  

By July 1, 2021, all third-party food ordering platforms and delivery apps must comply with two main Zero Waste Act requirements for all District businesses for which they provide ordering and delivery services:

  1. Customers must be able to affirmatively request the disposable items they would like included with their order, as it is illegal to automatically or by default include such items after July 1, 2021.
  2. Customers must be able to select the specific individual items they would like included with their order. This means they cannot simply select one box in order to have all available disposable items included.

Third-party platforms are businesses that act as the intermediary between the food service entity and the customer, most commonly in the form of apps or websites. Food businesses with their own ordering apps or websites are exempt from the July 1, 2021 requirement, but will be subject to a similar requirement that takes effect on January 1, 2022. More information will be posted closer to the effective date. 

The law applies to disposable utensils, napkins, condiment packages, straws, and other small items not used to hold or contain food. Failure to comply with the law could result in fines, penalties, or a court-ordered injunction.

This change will reduce the amount of disposable food ware items distributed throughout the District without specifically being requested, helping to prevent the unnecessary waste and plastics pollution that can result.

This visual guide (also linked below for download) explains what third-party food ordering platforms and delivery apps can and cannot display when customers place an order for a District business.

For further information or questions, please contact (202) 671-0080.
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