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Seattle's New Food Packaging Requirements
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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.

Effective 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 to a recycling or composting facility for processing.

When does the ban take effect? 

Packaging Ordinance TimelinePhase 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. 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

The requirement that all single-use food service ware be either compostable or recyclable shall temporarily 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.

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FOH Disposal StationWhat should my business do?

Your business should also secure recycling and compost service and place clearly labeled bins for collection of packaging and food if you have a customer dining area disposal station. For ideas on how to implement a three bin collection system, visit our Food+ Wall of Fame.

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. If you choose to compost, you must use products that are approved compostable by the City of Seattle and the region’s major compost processor, Cedar Grove Composting.

Click here for a continually updated list of approved packaging products and information on manufacturers, and local distributors.

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.

How do I sign up for service?

For more information on how to set up recycling or compost service for your business, please visit our Seattle Commercial Waste and Recycling 101 page.

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.

Additional questions? Call us at  (206) 343.8505, or email help@resourceventure.org.

Order FREE Posters and Decals for Customer Dining Areas

Food Packaging FAQs

Three Steps to Meet Food Packaging Requirements Flyer (PDF)

Food Service Packaging Requirements and Resources Flyer (PDF)

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Site Audit Checklist (PDF)

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Food Compostables letter (PDF)
English | Amharic | Cambodian | Chinese | Japanese | Korean | Lao | Oromo | Russian | Somali | Spanish | Tagalog | Thai | Tigrinya | Vietnamese

Foam Ban Flyer (PDF) with Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese translations

Program Links

Order FREE Posters and Decals for Customer Dining Areas

Cedar Grove Approved Products

Video: King 5 New Seattle Law Requires Recyclable Containers at Restaurants

Food Plus Compostables Event

Food Packaging Disposables Ban (EPS Ban too) Ordinance

Green Eats Week

Video: Local Restaurants Adopt Green Practices

Seattle Public Utilities

Foam Ban Page

Related Links

Fats, Oil, and Grease Recycling and Management

Seattle Times: Coffee-cup Recycling Brims with Obstacles

Snohomish County HeraldNet: What Packaging is Compostable? It's Complicated

San Francisco's new Universal Recycling & Composting Ordinance takes effect October 21, 2009

Video: San Francisco Thriving on 'Four-Course Compost'

Interpretation Information

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