Reusable Foodware Ordinance

Community Development Agency

reusable foodware items

About the Project

On May 10, 2022, the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted the Reusable Foodware Ordinance. NOTE: ENFORCEMENT WILL NOT BEGIN UNTIL NOVEMBER 10, 2023. 

The Ordinance uses the hierarchy of: reusables are best, compostable fiber foodware is compliant, and single-use plastics are prohibited. Reducing the amount of disposable items we consume not only is better for the environment, it reduces the amount of litter in the community and lowers the amount of greenhouse gas inputs used to produce the disposable product in the first place.

How the Reusable Food Ordinance works: Bring your own Reusable is best. When dining-in at a restaurant, reusable foodware and utensils must be provided. Customers are allowed to bring their own clean containers for take-out. Compostable or Aluminum is OK. All take-out foodware (plates, containers, cups, utensils, straws) must be natural-fiber compostable or all-aluminum, and only available upon request. An itemized charge of $0.25 will be added for disposable cups. Plastic and plastic-lined paper are banned. Many paper containers are lined with thin plastic film and cannot be recycled or composted. Bio-plastics labeled as

As of September 2022, the ordinance applies only to food facility operators in the unincorporated portions of the County. Each Marin jurisdiction is responsible for adopting their own version of the ordinance if they wish it to apply to businesses in their jurisdiction.

However, the following Marin cities/towns have already adopted single-use plastic ordinances that each enforce separately:

  • San Anselmo
  • Fairfax
  • Sausalito

The following table shows each Marin jurisdiction's current adoption status of the ordinance.

Jurisdiction Ordinance Adoption Status Other Foodware Regulations
Unincorporated Marin Yes - Adopted 5/10/22
Tiburon Yes - Adopted 8/17/22
Belvedere No
Corte Madera No
Fairfax No Single-Use Foodware Reduction
Larkspur No
Mill Valley No
Novato No
Ross No
San Anselmo No Single-Use Foodware Regulation
San Rafael No
Sausalito No Single-Use Plastics code language

 

Information for Food Facilities

Check out the resources available to help your food facility reduce waste and meet the requirements of the Marin Foodware Ordinance:

Note: These are not complete lists nor does the County endorse or recommend specific manufacturers or distributors but provides these resources for informational purposes.

Outreach Materials and Sign Resources for Your Food Facility:

Additional reusable foodware resources for food facility operators:

Frequently Asked Questions

PDF of Full FAQ list is available for download.

General FAQ

  • Which jurisdictions are affected by the ordinance?

    As of September 2022, the ordinance applies only to food facility operators in the unincorporated portions of the County. Each Marin jurisdiction is responsible for adopting their own version of the ordinance if they wish it to apply to businesses in their jurisdiction.

    However, the following Marin cities/towns have already adopted single-use plastic ordinances that each enforce separately:

  • What are compostable plastics or bio-plastics? Why are they prohibited?

    Compostable plastics are materials that are designed to break down into commercial compost facilities to become biomass, water, and carbon dioxide. However, there are significant concerns with bioplastics, including:

    • Some bio-plastics may contain harmful chemicals such as PFOs and PFAs.
    • When non-compostable bio-plastics enter compost and/or recycling processing facilities, they contaminate the waste stream.
    • Bio-plastics do not always break down during the composting process.
    • Bio-plastics look a lot like their plastic counterparts during the composting process which can challenge compost sorting.
    • When bio-plastics end up in oceans and bays, they behave similar to regular plastics in the way they decompose, potentially harming marine life.

    Locally, nearly 90 percent of Marin's organic material (food scraps, food soiled paper, and yard trimmings) is processed locally at the WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility located on the Redwood Landfill in unincorporated Novato. The facility produces compost approved for organic farming. This compost is then used by local farmers and ranchers in Marin County to keep their soil, crops, and animals healthy. According to WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility, "compost that is suitable for use in organic food production in California must be registered as an Organic Input Material with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This means only a very limited, if any, amount and type of synthetic (i.e. paper and cardboard) material can be included. CDFA investigators conduct routine sampling and inspections, respond to consumer complaints, and make sure facilities comply with the laws and regulations." As such, WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility does not accept many commonly labeled "compostable" materials such as bio-plastics. It is very common for the large commercial compost facilities in the North Bay that receive compostables from County agencies to exclude the materials that include bio-plastics due to the organic registration.

    For all of the above reasons the County's Ordinance prohibits the use of bio-plastic foodware.

  • How does the ordinance align with state regulation?

    In October 2021, three relevant foodware regulations, Assembly Bill (AB) 1200, AB 1201, and AB 1276, were signed into law by Governor Newsom. AB 1200 prohibits distribution or sale of any food packaging that contains regulated perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) beginning January 1, 2023. AB 1201 prohibits the sale of products labeled with the term "compostable" or "home compostable" unless the product satisfies a specified criterion. AB 1276 expands the plastic straws upon request law (AB 1884) to include other single-use food accessories (e.g., utensils), other food facilities, and third-party delivery platforms for food that is taken away, delivered, or served on-site, and requires cities to authorize enforcement of those requirements prior to June 1, 2022. These new state laws are in alignment with the County of Marin's Ordinance, which prohibits PFAs in permitted foodware in the County, requires compostable foodware to be compliant with the County's composting programs, and requires permitted straws to be provided only upon request.

  • Are plastic lids on beverage cups / food containers allowed?

    Yes. Under the current Ordinance, beverage and food container lids used by food facilities are not required to be made from natural fiber (e.g., paper, sugarcane, wheat stalk, etc.). The County understands that for those food facilities that provide grab-and-go food options, the lids will need to be transparent to allow customers to view the food that they are considering for purchase. Additionally, many plastic lids (both traditional and compostable plastic) seem to provide a more secure lock on the food container/cup than the natural fiber counterparts that are currently on the market. The County may reassess its stance on lids in the future based on several factors, including the availability of new compliant items on the market. In the meantime, whenever possible, the County encourages food facilities to voluntarily test and utilize, if acceptable, existing natural fiber-based lids for their operations.

  • Are there exemptions in the Ordinance? If so, what are they?

    The following exemptions are included in the Ordinance:

    • Food facilities can use disposable food service ware that is made entirely of aluminum.
    • Disposable, single-use plastic straws may be provided only upon request to consumers with medical needs. Healthcare facilities may distribute disposable, single-use plastic straws without a request from patients.
    • Drive-through areas of food facilities or delivery service platforms may distribute straws and cup sleeves without a request from the customer.
    • If no reasonably feasible disposable food service ware alternative that complies with the Ordinance exists, the item currently being used by the food facility may be exempt. The County will annually review and publish a list of food service ware items for which there is not yet a commercially available and effective alternative. Items on this list will not be subject to enforcement.
  • Why doesn't it apply to pre-packaged food in grocery stores (like plastic produce clamshells)?

    The ordinance is designed to address food service waste related to prepared food that is expected to be consumed on or off premises which can contribute significantly to local litter and waste streams. This type of regulation is much more suited for federal and state-wide action as it is extremely difficult to regulate material outside of the County. There is statewide legislation (i.e., AB 842) and ballot initiatives (California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative and Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act) in development that aim to address plastic waste at the vendor and producer levels.

  • Who will provide education? Who will enforce the Ordinance?

    The Marin County Environmental Health Division food inspection program staff will take a proactive approach in educating all retail food facility operators regularly of the requirements of the ordinance and taking enforcement action as necessary. This has the potential to result in greater overall levels of compliance and has the benefit of staying power because there would be regular education and outreach on an annual basis. The Environmental Health Division is in a unique position to provide proactive outreach during already scheduled visits to businesses as part of its food program.

Food Facility FAQ

  • What is prepared food?

    "Prepared Food" means food or beverages which are served, packaged, cooked, chopped, sliced, mixed, brewed, frozen, squeezed or otherwise prepared on the premises of the Food Vendor and includes Take-out Food. For the purposes of this chapter, Prepared Food does not include raw, butchered meats, fish and/or poultry, which are sold from a butcher case or similar appliance.

  • Is my food facility affected?

    In jurisdictions that adopt the ordinance (currently, only the unincorporated portions of the County), the Ordinance applies to all food vendors as described in the California Retail Food Code section 113789. The ordinance applies to any food vendor selling Prepared Food to be consumed on and off the premises located or operating within the jurisdiction adopting the ordinance. This includes but is not limited to a:

    • Restaurant
    • Bar
    • Grocery store
    • Delicatessen
    • Bakery
    • Food service establishment (carry out, quick service, full-service)
    • Public and private schools
    • Food truck
    • Itinerant restaurants
    • Pushcart
    • Farmers market
    • Caterer
    • Microenterprise home kitchen operations
    • Cottage food operations
  • How long do I have until I have to comply?

    Enforcement of the ordinance will begin no earlier than November 10, 2023, eighteen (18) months after adoption of the County ordinance allowing food facility operators time to receive educational materials and assistance, use up existing non-compliant foodware, and recover from COVID-19 impacts.

  • What foodware materials are considered fiber based?
    • Fiber-based foodware materials include bamboo, sugarcane, wheat stock, and non-coated paper.
      • As a reminder, look for key words such as "fiber based", "unlined", and "uncoated".
    • All foodware (not accessories) must be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institution (BPI).
    • Compostable plastic products are not compliant with the ordinance.
      • Be sure to avoid "PLA", "PFAs", "Compostable Plastic", and "Plastic-lined" products.
  • How can I find compliant food service ware products?

    The County has developed a compliant foodware matrix and will continually update and revise it as more products become available. Additionally, the Town of San Anselmo has an excellent tool for finding compliant alternatives. Note these are not complete lists nor does the County endorse or recommend specific manufacturers or distributors but provides these resources for informational purposes.

  • Do compliant food service ware products cost more?

    There can be lifecycle cost savings from switching to reusable foodware materials and as demand increases more suppliers are developing compliant materials which is bringing down the costs of fiber based disposable materials. The Town of San Anselmo and ReThink Disposable completed a number of case studies of businesses complying with foodware ordinances that demonstrated cost savings.

  • Are there exempt items? Can my food facility be granted an exemption?

    The following exemptions are included in the Ordinance:

    • Food facilities can use disposable food service ware that is made entirely of aluminum.
    • Disposable, single-use plastic straws may be provided only upon request to consumers with medical needs. Healthcare facilities may distribute disposable, single-use plastic straws without a request from patients.
    • Drive-through areas of food facilities and delivery service platforms may distribute straws and cup sleeves without a request from the customer.
    • If no reasonably feasible disposable food service ware alternative that complies with the Ordinance exists, the item currently being used by the food facility may be exempt. The County will annually review and publish a list of food service ware items for which there is not yet a commercially available and effective alternative. Items on this list will not be subject to enforcement.
  • What kind of foodware items are available for hot food?

    Currently hot cups and bowls are exempt, but there are compliant fiber-based clamshells and plates that can be used. This list contains many acceptable products that are not lined with bioplastics and are fiber based: Allowable Foodware and Foodware Accessory List.

  • Is it safe for customers to bring their own reusables?

    Yes. Under recent legislation AB 619, customers can bring their own reusables (cups or containers) to be filled by the food facility by meeting three requirements:

    1. Consumer-owned containers must be isolated from the serving surface, or the surface must be sanitized after each filling.
    2. Food facility is required to prepare, maintain, and adhere to written procedures that addresses cross-contamination prevention and wastewater disposal.
    3. Food facility shall ensure compliance with handwashing requirements specified in California Retail Food Code (CRFC).
  • Are there extra costs for washing reusables? Are there savings on water usage?

    Water usage through industrial grade and commercial dish washers are engineered to be water and energy efficient.

    • By mitigating costs to reusables instead of disposables, businesses can save an average of $500-$1500 per year depending on the volume of orders according to studies from ReThink Disposables.
    • Restaurants using a three-compartment sink can lessen water usage by investing in a platescrape, a water and time saving tool that is utilized in lieu of a pre-rinse spray valve. This tool eliminates the need to pre-wash.
  • Is manufacturing reusable items less costly than manufacturing disposables?

    Reusable items are designed to be more durable so they can be used repeatedly, and the environmental footprint of their manufacture is almost always higher than of a disposable item on a one-to-one basis. However, the long-term benefits are considerable.

    • By reusing the item multiple times, the 'impact per use' comes down over time.
    • The continued use of disposables, which requires investment in new materials and efforts to increase recycling and composting rates, comes at a higher cost over time.
  • Are there resources available to help my facility comply?

    Yes, the County has partnered with a consultant team to develop resources and provide direct outreach, education, and technical assistance to food facility operators. In 2021, the County also offered a grant program to help businesses begin to make the transition to compliant materials. We are hoping to refund and relaunch the program later in 2022.

  • What are the penalties for not complying?

    Violations of the provisions of the ordinance will result in administrative citations and fines. The penalties and fines shall be enforced as follows: $100.00 for a first violation, $200.00 for a second violation within 12 months, and $500.00 for third and additional violations within 12 months.

Health-Related FAQ

  • What is PFAs? Why are they prohibited in the Ordinance?

    The Ordinance allows only natural fiber-based food service ware that is free of all intentionally added fluorinated chemicals (i.e., per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substance, which is also known as PFAs). Fluorinated chemicals are synthetic chemicals commonly used in disposable food ware as coatings that help the materials be heat and grease resistant. PFAs can persist in the environment for a very long time and can impact human health. To verify that natural fiber-based food service ware is free of PFAs, they will need to be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or another party approved by the County. Look for this BPI logo/label on food ware products.

  • Are reusable items safe to use?

    Yes, reusables are safe to use! Based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene. Reusable food service ware is safe to use for both (1) dine-in and (2) take-out/delivery services provided by service providers (e.g., Dishcraft, Dispatch, Sparkl, etc.) even during COVID-19, as long as food facilities and service providers abide by California Public Health Code, local COVID-19 safety guidelines, and other applicable regulations.

    Best Practices for Reusable Products in a Retail Space

    1. Comply with food safety health codes - Although not mandatory, The California Retail Food Code allows food facilities to fill and refill clean, reusable consumer-owned containers. Environmental Health Services food inspection staff and the Food Code require the food facilities to clean the containers to prevent cross-contamination, isolate the container from the food service area or sanitize the surface after filling/serving, and adhere to written procedures to maintain sanitation practices. (per Section 114121(b)(1) and 114075(e))
    2. Use additional hygienic practices for COVID - The bottom line is that reusable items are safe to use when cleaned with soap and water, and there is no substitute for thorough hygiene. Retail food establishments should follow Food and Drug Administration guidance regarding retail practices and COVID-19 safety.
    3. Employ contact-free systems for customers' personal bags and cups - Systems in which there is no contact between the customer's reusable cup, container, or bag and retail surface areas can protect workers and provide a precautionary approach to addressing COVID-19 transmission.

Information for Customers Who Want to Use Reusables

Customer-provided reusables are encouraged. Reusable mugs, utensils, containers, and bags from customers are safe and allowed by health code.

Acceptable containers must be:

  • Empty
  • Pre-cleaned and dry
  • Big enough to contain all of your food
  • Safe and suitable for the food you order

Reusable Foodware Ordinance Features

The Ordinance contains five key features including:

  1. All takeout disposable foodware (e.g., plates, bowls, cups, trays) must be natural-fiber compostable (no bio plastics).
    1. Takeout foodware must be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).
    2. Takeout foodware accessories must be natural-fiber compostable and when only available “upon request” or at takeout station.
    3. Aluminum is allowed.
  2. Reusable foodware and utensils must be used if a customer is dining in at a restaurant.
    1. Dine-in customers must be served on reusable foodware (e.g., plates, bowls, cups, trays) and utensils.
    2. Natural-fiber compostable accessories can be provided upon request.
    3. Enforcement to be phased in.
  3. A $0.25 charge for disposable cups.
    1. Exemptions available for Cal Fresh/SNAP and WIC customers.
  4. Garbage, Recycling, and Organics bins must be in front and back of house with graphic-rich signage.
    1. Allows customers and employees to properly sort waste.
    2. Requirement of State Laws (AB 341, AB 1826, SB 1383).
  5. Natural-fiber compostable straws and other foodware accessories may be available upon request.

This ordinance applies to all entities selling prepared food to the public in the unincorporated County, including restaurants, grocery stores and delis, bakeries, carry-out, quick services, farmers markets, food trucks, and any other business with a health permit.

Why is Plastic a Problem?

Single-use plastics are harmful to marine life.

Why Aren't Bio-Plastics a Solution?

Bio-plastic foodware is not necessarily compostable or degradable, and some may contain toxic materials.

  • Some bio-plastics may contain harmful chemicals such as PFOs and PFAs.
  • When non-compostable bio-plastics enter compost processing facilities, they contaminate the waste stream.
  • Bio-plastics do not always break down during the composting process.
  • Bio-plastics look a lot like their plastic counterparts during the composting process.
  • When bio-plastics end up in oceans and bays, they behave similar to regular plastics in the way they decompose, potentially harming marine life.

Nearly 90 percent of Marin’s organic material (food scraps and yard trimmings) is processed locally at the WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility located on the Redwood Landfill in unincorporated Novato. The facility produces compost approved for organic farming. This compost is then used by local farmers and ranchers in Marin County to keep their soil, crops, and animals healthy. According to WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility, “compost that is suitable for use in organic food production in California must be registered as an Organic Input Material with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This means only a very limited, if any, amount and type of synthetic (i.e. paper and cardboard) material can be included. CDFA investigators conduct routine sampling and inspections, respond to consumer complaints and make sure facilities comply with the laws and regulations.” As such, WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility does not accept many commonly labeled “compostable” materials such as bio-plastics.

Meetings and Workshops

Reusable Foodware Ordinance: Virtual Business Workshop

The County hosted a virtual workshop on September 15, 2021, open to all food vendors in the County of Marin to discuss the features of the Reusable Foodware Ordinance. The purpose of the workshop was to seek feedback to meet the needs and concerns of the business community while responding to the public’s call to reduce plastic and disposable waste.

Workshop Presentation


Reusable Foodware Ordinance: Public Workshop

The County held a virtual meeting on July 14, 2021 for all residents to discuss the features of the Reusable Foodware Ordinance, including establishing regulations requiring the use of reusable and compostable foodware materials (e.g., plates, bowls, cups, utensils, and trays) at restaurants, grocery stores and delis, bakeries, carry-out, minimarts, farmers markets, food trucks, and more. The County requested feedback from its residents and businesses and plans to bring the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for adoption no earlier than Fall 2021.

Workshop Presentation


Previous Meetings

Environmental Health Services hosted stakeholder meetings in November and December of 2019 while working on a draft ordinance.

If you are interested in updates on the project and/or would like to receive invitations to the community meetings, please subscribe at the top of the page.


Survey Results

In November 2021, the Environmental Health Services division of the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) offered Resident and Food Vendor surveys about the County of Marin’s consideration of a ban on single-use plastic food service products at retail businesses. Surveys were provided in both English and Spanish.

338 residents from both unincorporated and incorporated Marin County responded to the Resident survey. The results of the survey showed that:

  • 95% of respondents are in favor of reducing plastic materials from going to landfill
  • 91% of respondents are in favor of requiring food vendors to use foodware that is reusable or compostable
  • 90% of respondents support a "reusables for dine-in" requirement
  • 79% of respondents support a County-wide cup charge

97 food vendors from both unincorporated and incorporated Marin County responded to the Food Vendor survey. The results of the survey showed that:

  • Vendors are mostly concerned with cost, supply, and customer behavior change
  • Vendors see the biggest benefits of this ordinance as less landfilled waste, reduced waste overall, and having more sustainable options for customers
  • Over 50% of businesses support a $0.25 cup charge
  • 68% of respondents do not think it would be difficult to switch to all reusables for dine-in (of which 18% would want help from the County or cities)