Food packaging laws seek to reduce litter and PFAS contamination

Current and upcoming requirements for Washington food service providers

From coffee shops and cafeterias to restaurants and gas stations, food service often uses disposable products. While convenient, these products can create waste, add to pollution, and leach toxic chemicals into the environment. Washington has new requirements every food service establishment should know about. 

Use PFAS-free food packaging

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic chemicals sometimes used for greaseproof and waterproof coatings on food packaging. PFAS can cause health problems like higher cancer risk, weaker immune response, and lower birth weight. 

People can be exposed to PFAS when eating food from packaging that contains PFAS. Food packaging can also release PFAS into soil and groundwater where it builds up in animals, people, and plants. That’s why Washington passed a law prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and distribution of certain food packaging containing PFAS.

Fry cup, disposable plate, burger in wrapper, clamshell with salad, pizza box, and popcorn bag.

Some packaging designed to hold freshly prepared food can contain PFAS, a group of toxic chemicals.

On Feb. 1, 2023, certain types of food packaging were banned if they have PFAS intentionally added. These include:

  • Wraps.
  • Plates.
  • Food boats.
  • Pizza boxes.

As of May 1, 2024, the following products are also banned if they have PFAS intentionally added:

  • Bags and sleeves.
  • Bowls.
  • Flat serviceware, including items like plates and trays.
  • Open-top containers, like french fry cartons and food cups.
  • Closed containers, like clamshells.

Manufacturers of these products must certify their products comply with the law. If you’re purchasing these products, ask the manufacturer for their certificate of compliance. For more information, visit our PFAS in food packaging law webpage or email

Avoid expanded polystyrene

On June 1, 2024, several food service products made of expanded polystyrene will be banned for sale and distribution in Washington. 

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), often mistakenly called Styrofoam™, is a type of foamed plastic used in takeout food containers and packing peanuts. While expanded polystyrene can be recycled, it is expensive and not accepted in most curbside recycling programs.

In Washington, foam fragments – including EPS – are two of the top ten items collected during beach cleanups conducted by Surfrider Foundation volunteers. 

Examples of products made from EPS. Cup, clamshell, plates, bowl, tray, and cooler.

The sale and distribution of EPS packing peanuts, single-use coolers, and food service products is prohibited.

As of June 1, 2023, expanded polystyrene packing peanuts are prohibited for sale and distribution in Washington. And on June 1, 2024, expanded polystyrene food service products such as cups, plates, to-go clamshells, trays, food containers, and single-use coolers will be banned as well.

For more information and a list of alternative products, visit the expanded polystyrene ban webpage or email Be sure to purchase alternatives that are PFAS-free.

Look for compostable product labeling

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Washington’s Plastic Product Degradability Law (RCW 70A.455) set standards for labeling an item as compostable. Changes to the law were passed in 2024 and go into effect June 6. Products made entirely of wood, or 98% other fiber (with no plastic additives), are exempt from the labeling standards.

Look for the third-party certification logo if you buy, sell, or distribute compostable products. All compostable products in Washington should be certified for composting in industrial settings and tested to meet a recognized scientific standard, like ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). In addition to a third-party certification logo, look for green, beige, and brown color schemes and the written word “compostable.” Be sure to check if your waste collection service accepts compostable products before putting them in your organics collection bin.

Examples of items with compost labeling. Bowl, cups, utensils, straw, bag.

Look for compostable products with the right labeling features (green, beige, or brown color or striping, certifier logo, and the word “compostable”). Avoid “greenwashing” products, which mislead consumers about their environmental impacts.

Compostable products should meet the labeling standards as of Jan. 1, 2024. People can report violations starting July 2024. In addition to reporting products that don’t comply, people can report attempted greenwashing like non-compostable film bags that are tinted green and using words other than compostable like “biodegradable” and “degradable.” For more information, visit the compostable product labeling requirements webpage or email

Stay tuned for more information about enforcement in 2024.

Avoid single-use plastic carryout bags

Single-use plastic bags are banned in Washington. Businesses may provide alternatives, like bags that are reusable, compostable, or made of paper. They can also offer customers used boxes or go bag-free. This ban went into effect Oct. 2021. For details about the law, printable flyers in 17 languages, and a list of acceptable alternatives, visit the plastic bag ban webpage or email

No single use plastic carryout bags. Eight cent fee for large paper carryout bags made with 40 percent recycled content. Eight cent fee for thick reusable plastic carryout bags made with 40 percent recycled content and a minimum of 2.25 mil thick film. Fee optional for green or brown compostable bags. Any green or brown tinted film bags MUST

Washington's single-use plastic bag ban started in 2021. It reduces pollution by prohibiting single-use plastic carryout bags and charging a fee for acceptable bags.

Ask customers before giving out single-use serviceware

Single-use items covered by the law include plastic and compostable utensils, straws, condiment packages, and cup lids for cold beverages. Customers must verbally confirm they want these items, or they can select them from self-service bins. (Health care facilities are exempt.) For more information and downloadable flyers in 17 languages, visit single-use serviceware webpage or email

Single-use utensils. Knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks, cocktail picks, splash sticks, stirrers, straws, cold cup lids, and sauce or condiment packets.

As of 2022, businesses cannot automatically include single-use items in customer orders.

More information

Ecology’s Quick Guide for Food Service Organizations and Businesses provides a summary of these requirements and links to more information in multiple languages: