Food Service Packaging Requirements

COVID-19 Message

Guidance during the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis may potentially impact the availability of some food service packaging and impact food service retailer operations and compliance with Seattle's Food Service Packaging Requirements. Seattle Public Utilities is providing the following guidance to assist our business community during these challenging times:
  1. For the duration of the COVID-19 civil emergency declaration by Mayor Durkan issued March 3, 2020, the City will suspend enforcement of the requirement that retail establishments collect a 5-cent, pass-through charge on recyclable paper bags provided to customers.
  2. If available, compliant bags and packaging should be used.
  3. If non-compliant bags or packaging are substituted on a temporary basis because of a lack of supply, we encourage posting simple signage informing the customer that the change is temporary.
  4. Care should be taken to not overstock non-complaint bags or packaging that are only needed on a temporary basis.
  5. Food service businesses should return to using compliant packaging as soon as possible.
  6. During the COVID-19 crisis, our policies remain in place. However, there will be no enforcement action taken on businesses that are unable to remain in compliance.

Current Requirements

The City of Seattle requires all food service businesses to find recyclable or compostable packaging and serviceware alternatives to all disposable food service items such as containers, cups, straws, utensils, and other products. This applies to all food service businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, delis, coffee shops, food trucks, and institutional cafeterias.

In addition, businesses with customer disposal stations where customers discard single-use packaging must provide options to collect recyclable and compostable packaging in clearly labeled bins and these businesses must sign up for composting and recycling service offered by a collection service provider.


Flyers, Posters, and More for Your Business


What Should My Food Service Business Do?

Rain City Burgers photo

  • Stop using EPS foam food service products immediately.
  • Stop using plastic straws and plastic utensils. This was effective July 1, 2018.
  • Use approved compostable food service packaging or recyclable packaging.
  • Use approved compostable straws and utensils. This was effective July 1, 2018.
  • Provide recycle and compost bins for customer to use in dining areas.
  • Provide recycle and compost bins for staff to use in kitchen and facility areas.
  • Sign up for recycling and composting collection services.


Banned Items

The foam ban, which bans expanded polystyrene (EPS, sometimes called "Styrofoam"), took effect January 1, 2009. The ban on non-recyclable and/or non-compostable disposable food packaging and service ware took effect July 1, 2010.

The straws & utensils ban, which bans plastic straws, spoons, forks, and knives was effective July 1, 2018. Food service businesses must use compostable straws and compostable utensils. For more information about these items, see Director's Rule SW-500.1.


Current Exemptions to the Requirements

A temporary exemption is reviewed each year and was provided for a period of one year beginning July 1, 2018 and ending June 30, 2019; therefore, the requirement that all single-use food-service ware be either compostable or recyclable shall not apply to:

  • Disposable long-handled thick plastic soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks and identified as non-compostable by the food-service business to its customers.
  • Disposable flexible plastic drinking straws when needed by customers due to medical or physical conditions and for whom flexible compostable paper straws are unsuitable. Otherwise, straws must be compostable or designed to be reusable.
  • Metal foil, metal foil-faced papers and engineered composite papers used to wrap hot food such as hamburgers and burritos.
  • Portion cups (two ounces and under), if used for hot foods or requiring lids and identified as non-compostable by the food-service business to its customers.


Where to Find Compostable and Recyclable Products

You will find compostable or recyclable alternatives wherever you buy food service products. Compostable products must be approved compostable by the City of Seattle. View approved product listings and request info about product testing via the City’s compost processors, Cedar Grove Composting and Lenz Composting.

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.



It is illegal in the City of Seattle for any restaurant, café, grocery store, coffee shop, cafeteria or 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. Food service packaging and serviceware must be recyclable or compostable in Seattle.

Report businesses still using EPS foam containers to the Green Business Program at (206) 343-8505 or


Additional Resources

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Related links

Green Your Business with EnviroStars
Cedar Grove Composting Approved Products
Lenz Composting Approved Products
Ordinance 122751 - Food Packaging Disposables Ban (EPS Ban too)
Ordinance 123307 - Food Packaging Disposables Ban (EPS Ban too)