Seattle Bans Single-use Restaurant Packaging From Landfills

Items considered waste just one week ago by most Seattle restaurants and food establishments are now routed into a separate bin, destined for commercial composting. Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs

Seattle, followed closely by the City of Issaquah next year, is officially the first market area in North America to require single-use food service packaging be either compostable or recyclable.

Put into effect July 1, the ordinance requires restaurants, coffee shops, food courts, cafeterias and other food service businesses to stop throwing away single-use food-service ware and packaging including napkins, paper bags, wooden coffee stir sticks, clamshells and hot and cold beverage cups and lids among others.

The city has contracted with Cedar Grove Composting to accept the commercial food-service products and provide restaurants with an accepted list of compostable items.

“With our requirement that food service packaging must be compostable or recyclable, Seattle has taken a big step toward a zero waste future,” said City Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “You have to ask yourself why we should make stuff just to throw it away. With compostable and recyclable food containers, we’re closing the loop.”

Food establishments using compostable or recyclable food service products are required to provide collection bins for customers.

According to Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Dick Lilly, about half of the 1,700 restaurants in Seattle have signed up for food-waste collection by Cedar Grove. The City hopes participation of the new ordinance will help prevent 6,000 tons of food service-ware and leftover food from entering landfills.

The compost process at Cedar Grove takes about eight weeks, depending on the time of year. From there, it sits a few weeks to darken before it can be sold as compost for use in gardens and landscaping.

Similar regulations for single-use food service packaging are being tried in San Francisco and are planned in Toronto.

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  1. Thanks for a great article, Lori! This is extremely exciting. I hope Seattle is just the first of many cities to implement this change, and that other areas will quickly follow suit.

  2. How can I bring this great idea to my area? It’s not a large city or anything like that but I’d love to have this happening here. Any ideas?

  3. I like that the picture is In-N-Out Burger when the closest In-N-Out is almost 600 miles away from Seattle.

    Exciting nonetheless. :)

  4. Excellent news! Seattle also composts latte cups and pizza boxes with yard waste. If you want more info, also look at the compost program on Mackinac Island.

  5. Every time I go to a fast food place, this crosses my mind. I often want to ask them to just hand me my damned burger with a fistful of fries and leave the packaging out of it.

  6. It is a great idea but i wonder about used containers and the food, grease and goop that is left all over them. It would make for a lot of bugs and smell.

  7. i thought this already went into effect. After it was passed, most places started using corn plastic to-go containers. It always throws me off when im on the eastside and get handed a petro-plastic to-go box.

  8. Green Duck has put this solution in place for events across the country…including the World Equestrian Games 2010 taking place in Lexington, KY in September. The majority of the packaging will be compostable, the rest, recyclable, which creates an almost zero waste event!

  9. This is not in “testing” phase in San Francisco. It has been law for well over a year now. Also Supermarkets are banned from using plastic shopping bags. Great stuff, but give credit where credit is due.

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