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Reducing Food Service Waste

Background

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. The Act prohibits food-serving entities from providing “accessory” disposable food service ware items unless first requested by the customer. The new requirements will save businesses time and money while also cutting down on unnecessary waste that ends up landfilled or incinerated or as pollution in local rivers.

To learn more about the many other District initiatives and laws working toward a cleaner city, or to learn more about what you can do to help, visit Trash Free DC and zerowaste.dc.gov.

DOEE is offering a new grant program in 2022 to support food businesses and other food-serving entities interested in transitioning from disposable to reusable food service ware. Learn more.

What is the law?

The Utensils etc. by Request requirement has 2 parts;

  1. Effective January 1, 2022, all District restaurants, and food-serving entities are prohibited from automatically including small disposable food service items in customer orders. Entities must keep small disposable items either:
    a. Behind the counter to give to customers who request them or
    b. In a self-service area for customers to take on their own

    The new requirements apply to in-person, online, and mobile orders.

    DOEE understands that training staff, updating operating software, and other aspects of making the transition to compliant practices takes time. As such, we will focus the first six months of the year on education and compliance assistance through regular inspections. Beginning July 1, 2022, entities found to be noncompliant with these new requirements will receive first a Notice of Violation (warning letter) and then a Notices of Violation (fine) if noncompliance continues.
     
  2. Third-party food ordering platforms and delivery apps (Uber Eats, Grub Hub, etc) must update platforms so that customers can affirmatively request disposable items for their order.

    If you are a representative from a third-party food ordering platform and would like more detailed information on this requirement, please see the section entitled “Third-Party Food Ordering Platform Requirements” below.

What items are regulated?

Customers must request accessory disposable food service items, including:

  • Utensils (including chopsticks)
  • Napkins
  • Condiment packets
  • Straws/stirrers

Who does this law apply to?

All District entities that serve food, including but not limited to:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Cafeterias
  • Carry-outs
  • Schools
  • Religious Institutions providing free coffee or food to parishioners at a service
  • Hospitals
  • Nonprofits that serve food
  • Unsure where your organization, institution, or group is regulated, or need assistance in implementing the new requirements? Contact DOEE at the phone or email at the bottom of the page for assistance.

For customers of food-serving entities:

Make sure you ask for any disposable items you need to enjoy your meal. If you don’t need anything, don’t ask!

Leave us a tip if you suspect a business is not in compliance with this law.

How will DOEE enforce this law?

DOEE routinely inspects regulated entities for compliance with the District’s food service ware requirements. DOEE understands that training staff, updating operating software, and other aspects of making the transition to compliant practices takes time. As such, we will focus the first six months of the year on education and compliance assistance through regular inspections. Beginning July 1, 2022, entities found to be noncompliant with these new requirements will receive first a Notice of Violation (warning letter) and then a Notices of Violation (fine) if noncompliance continues.

Requirements for Third-Party Food Ordering Platform Requirements

Effective July 1, 2021, all third-party food ordering platforms and delivery apps (Uber Eats, Grub Hub, etc) that work with District restaurants must update their customer-facing platforms in the following ways:

  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.

A visual guide with details on these requirements is in the attachments section below, labeled “Zero Waste Act Visual Guide for Third Party Platforms June 2021”

Are you a business, food-serving entity, or customer with questions about this law?

Reach out to Lillian Power at [email protected] or by phone at (202) 671-0080.

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