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Food Service Packaging Requirements

  • Rain City BurgersRain City Burgers became a "Greener" business by purchasing compostable plates, cups, and food service items.

Seattle's New Food Packaging Requirements

The City of Seattle is requiring all food service businesses to find packaging alternatives to throw-away food service containers, cups and other products in all food service businesses - restaurants, grocery stores, delis, coffee shops and institutional cafeterias.

By July 1, 2010 all food service products designed for one-time use must be replaced with one-time use products that are either compostable or recyclable.

In addition, businesses that have customer dining area disposal stations where customers discard single use packaging must collect recyclable and compostable packaging in clearly labeled bins and send it to a recycling or composting facility for processing.

When does the ban take effect?

Phase one of the ordinance applied only to expanded polystyrene (EPS, sometimes called “Styrofoam”). The foam ban took effect January 1, 2009.

Phase two of the ordinance applies to all throw-away food packaging and service ware. The ban on disposables took effect July 1, 2010.

A temporary exemption is in place for utensils, straws, small portion cups, and foil-faced, insulated wrap until July 1, 2013. Please see below for more details.

Are there any product exemptions?

Leading up to the July 1 deadline, Seattle Public Utilities worked extensively with restaurant industry stakeholders and businesses in the food service packaging industry. Through this process, which has included restaurant industry comment and in-use testing of various products, SPU has determined that there are several types of products for which compostable or recyclable alternatives meeting acceptable performance standards or recyclability do not yet exist.

Ordinance 123307, which took effect June 19, 2010, permits Seattle Public Utilities to issue director’s rules for temporary waivers to the food service ware and packaging requirements set out two years ago in Ordinance 122751.

Temporary Waivers

For a period of one year, the requirement that all single-use food service ware be either compostable or recyclable shall not apply to:

  • Cutlery/utensils
  • Drinking straws; cocktail straws; cocktail picks; metal foil-faced papers and engineered composite papers used to wrap hot food such as hamburgers and burritos
  • “Portion cups” 2 ounces and under if used for hot foods or requiring lids

What should my business do?

You must stop using EPS foam food service products immediately. You must change to approved compostable food service packaging or recyclable packaging to be fully compliant. All food service businesses serving in one-time use service ware or packaging must provide compostable and recyclable material collection bins for customer use.

Why switch to compostable products?

In addition to the negative environmental impacts of EPS foam and throw-away plastics, Seattle wants to compost as much food waste as possible. Compostable products allow your customers easy one-step disposal of food waste and service ware into compost rather than garbage containers in your restaurant.

Where can I find substitute products?

You will find information on compostable or recyclable alternatives wherever you buy food service products. You must use products that are approved compostable by the City of Seattle and the region’s major compost processor, Cedar Grove Composting. SPU provides information on manufacturers and local distributors of approved packaging products at the Resource Venture website.

Caution: A large number of products advertised as “biodegradable” do not compost in the Seattle system. Because the intent of the City’s program is to minimize landfilling, products designed to be “biodegradable” in a landfill are not acceptable in Seattle. Be sure the products you buy are approved compostable.

Enforcement

It is illegal in the City of Seattle for any restaurant, café, grocery store, coffee shop, cafeteria or any other food service business to sell or provide food, for consumption on or off premises, in expanded polystyrene (EPS “Styrofoam”) containers. Any person or business violating the ban on Styrofoam containers is subject to a civil penalty of up to $250 for each violation. Reports of businesses still using EPS foam containers can be provided to the Resource Venture via phone at (206) 343-8505 and via email at help@resourceventure.org.

Resources

Food Packaging Requirements and Resource Flyer with 3-step information (pdf)
English | Amharic | Cambodian | Chinese | Japanese | Korean | Lao | Oromo | Russian | Somali | Spanish | Tagalog | Thai | Tigrinya | Vietnamese

Foam Ban Flyer (pdf) - Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese translations included

Translated Contact Information

Related links

Resource Venture
Cedar Grove Approved Products
Ordinance 122751 - Food Packaging Disposables Ban (EPS Ban too)
Ordinance 123307 - Food Packaging Disposables Ban (EPS Ban too)