Single-use Food Service Ware

The largest quantity of all items entering the marine environment are land-sourced single-use products categorized as food packaging and foodware. For more information about plastic packaging, please see the Plastic Packaging section. 

Proposed procurement goals: 

Note: The goal of procurement in this category is the complete elimination of single-use food ware over time. For more, see reusable food service ware section. When complete elimination is not possible: 

  • Eliminate all of the following:  
    • At least 80% of single-use food service ware based on total spend 
    • 100% of single-use food service ware containing ortho-phthalates, bisphenols, PFAS, lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, perchlorate, benzophenone, halogenated flame retardants, formaldehyde, PVC, polycarbonate, and polystyrene  
    • 100% of plastic grocery bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics
    • 100% of expanded and extruded polystyrene foam products including hinged clamshells, plates, and cups
    • 100% of non-recyclable food containers 
  • Require disclosure of PFAS in all products considered for purchase: Michigan Executive Directive 2021-8, Reducing State Purchases of Products Containing Intentionally Added PFAS 
  • Prefer products that have the new GreenScreen food service ware certification, which ensures products are free of chemicals of concern
  • Require registration of single-serve items with the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)
  • Require reuse at government workplaces and events. The San Francisco foodware ordinance requires event producers on City property to promote or provide reusable beverage containers to at least 10% of attendees.
  • Require reuse in municipal procurement. Prioritizing reduction, reuse, and repair should be at the core of government procurement policies. 
Public policy:
  • Require disposable compostable straws, stirrers, cup spill plugs, napkins, and utensils for take-out are provided only upon request by the customer or at a self-serve station. Over thirty local jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Denver, have enacted policies that require food businesses to ask first before providing customers with foodware accessories. Two states have enacted accessories on request for all material types: California (AB 1276-Carillo) and Washington State (SB 5022-Das). 
  • Do not grant licenses to businesses without dishwashing capacity
  • Require eateries with dishwashing capacity to provide reusable foodware for dine-in customers
  • Require single-use foodware provided by vendors or the city to be free of PFAS and other high priority toxic chemicals and materials
  • Provide economic support and incentives for businesses; Government can stimulate a transition to reusable and refillable through tax incentive programs, technical assistance for businesses, and grants to businesses, non-profits organizations, and other government entities
  • Introduce bans on throw-away packaging products. A variety of these bans exist–from the California and New York state bans on disposable hotel toiletry containers, to bans on disposable cups at government facilities in Scotland and cities in Ireland.
  • Introduce consumer charges for throw-away cups and containers, plus mandatory reuse. Berkeley, CA’s January 2019 Single-Use Foodware and Litter Reduction ordinance was the first policy in the world to enact a mandatory consumer charge for take-out throw-away cups city-wide. Subsequently several California cities as well as Vancouver, BC have enacted charges on cups and a few also charge for containers and utensils. 
Case studies and resources:
  • The reuse policy playbook: A public policy roadmap to reuse from Upstream 
  • CEH: Avoiding Hidden Hazards A Purchaser’s Guide to Safer Foodware
  • A Survey of Single-use Plastic Foodware Ordinances of the San Francisco Bay Region 
  • California: SB-568 Recycling bill: polystyrene food containers
  • Brookline, MA: Ordinance bans three toxic food packaging plastics—polystyrene, PVC, and PETE—in one ordinance, passed in May 2018.
  • Berkeley, CA: Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction act is often cited as a model for the country after passage in 2019 with a broad coalition of support. Data collected by the Rethink Disposable program demonstrated how much money and waste was saved by participating restaurants. The ordinance stipulates that: 1) Only reusable foodware may be used for dine-in service; 2) All takeout foodware must be approved as recyclable or compostable in the City’s collection programs; 3) Food vendors must charge customers $0.25 for every disposable beverage cup and $0.25 for every disposable food container provided, and; 4) Disposable compostable straws, stirrers, cup spill plugs, napkins, and utensils for take-out may be provided only upon request by the customer or at a self-serve station; 5) The City will no longer grant licenses to businesses without dishwashing capacity; 6) Disposable foodware must be free of PFAS chemicals.
  • State of Washington: Adopted Senate Bill 5022, which will reduce plastic pollution in Washington by banning certain expanded polystyrene foam products (colloquially, Styrofoam), such as coolers, packing peanuts, and food service products such as hinged clamshells, plates and cups.
  • Canada: In 2022, the Government of Canada announced a ban on a list of harmful single-use plastics. The list includes check-out bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made of or containing hard-to-recycle plastics, stir sticks, and straws. 
  • San Diego, CA: San Diego banned containers made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam—the Dow Chemical trademark name for extruded polystyrene. Banning polystyrene foodware is becoming widespread. More than 100 local governments across the U.S. already restrict it.
  • Palo Alto, CA: In conjunction with the City’s efforts to ban plastic bags from grocery stores (2009) and EPS and non‐recyclable takeout food containers (2010), Palo Alto also discontinued use of these same containers at City‐sponsored events and disallowed the purchase of EPS and non‐recyclable food containers for its own program use. RPN 
  • Communities in California, Florida, Washington, and New Jersey are implementing bans on plastic straws, stirrers, and cutlery, with non-plastic alternatives being provided only upon request
  • San Jose, CA: The City approved a revision to its Environmentally Preferable Procurement (EP3) Policy that prohibits the procurement of food service ware made from EPS. Also blocks EPS food service ware in citywide supply contracts, develops standard bid language requiring vendors to reduce EPS in packaging material, and implements EPS recycling at City facilities, where practicable. This supports the City’s efforts to reduce the presence of EPS food service ware in City storm drains and waterways. RPN
  • Sunnyvale, CA: The City of Sunnyvale passed a Zero Waste policy. As a result, the use of City funds to purchase single‐use water bottles and EPS foam food and drink cups is prohibited. The City is in the process of updating its Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy and contractor bid language to include language about eliminating plastic foam packaging from shipments. RPN