Food Service Packaging Requirements
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Food Service Packaging Requirements

Jun 02, 2023

The City of Seattle requires food service businesses to use food service packaging and service ware—items such as containers, cups, straws, utensils, and other products—that is either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Single-use items that are not accepted in Seattle’s recycling and composting programs are not allowed. Single-use items used for on-premise food service must be compostable. These requirements apply 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.

As of January 1, 2022, customers must verbally confirm that they want single-use items, or they must select items from self-service bins instead of having them automatically included with a food order. Single-use food and drink items included in this new law include single-use utensils, straws, condiment packages, and cup lids for cold beverages.

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The foam ban, which bans expanded polystyrene (EPS, sometimes called "foam blocks"), 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.

Single-use food service packaging that is not recyclable or compostable is banned under SMC 21.36.086. This includes plastic straws, spoons, forks, and knives, as of July 1, 2018, and plastic or plastic-coated paper portion cups, as of July 1, 2023. Food service businesses must use reusable or compostable straws, utensils, and portion cups. As of July 1, 2023, Director’s Rule SW-500 also prohibits the use of plastic-coated brown paper packaging that is not tested, approved, and labeled as compostable.

For more information about these items, see Director's Rule SW-500 (PDF).

A temporary exemption is reviewed and provided for a period of one year beginning July 1 each year. For the one-year period beginning July 1, 2023, the requirement that all single-use food-service ware be either compostable or recyclable does not apply to:

You will find compostable or recyclable alternatives wherever you buy food service products. Compostable products must meet Washington state requirements for compostable products, which includes a requirement that compostable products be “readily and easily identifiable” and certified by a third-party as compostable. Search for certified compostable products and request info about product testing via BPI and CMA.

Caution: A large number of products advertised as “biodegradable” are not compostable. Use of the term “biodegradable” and similar terms on plastic products is not allowed under Washington state law (RCW 70A.455). Be sure the products you buy are certified compostable and do not use products labeled “biodegradable.”

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 or with disposable food service packaging and service ware. Food service packaging and service ware must be recyclable or compostable in Seattle. Any person or business violating this requirement is subject to a civil penalty of up to $250 for each violation.

Report businesses using disposable food service packaging and service ware to the Green Business Program at (206) 343-8505 or [email protected].

Green Your Business with EnviroStarsCedar Grove Composting Approved ProductsLenz Composting Approved ProductsSMC 21.36.084 – Prohibition on use of expanded polystyrene food service products SMC 21.36.086 – Compostable or recyclable food service ware requiredDirector’s Rule SW-500 (PDF) – Requirements and temporary exceptions for food-service ware and packaging products

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