Reusable Foodware Ordinance

Community Development Agency

reusable foodware items

About the Project

Under current rules, only a limited amount of synthetic material can be composted in Marin; the rest goes into a landfill. The county’s largest waste product processor, the WM EarthCareTM Compost Facility at the Redwood Landfill & Recycling Center near Novato, does not accept many commonly labeled compostable materials such as bio-plastics.

The goal of the project is to develop an updated County ordinance that would define alternative materials that would be acceptable for composting, include language about consistent implementation of the policy, and lay out a coordination plan with the local food service industry. The ordinance will use 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.

It's Time To Say Goodbye to Single-Use Plastic Foodware (flyer)


The Reusable Foodware Ordinance is temporarily only hold as the County and our local food service industry respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

The County is still accepting comments on the Draft Reusable Foodware Ordinance. Please send comments to Rebecca Ng, Deputy Director, Environmental Health Services.

To assist those in our food service industry that may be looking for alternatives to single use plastic foodware, the County has developed a list of recommended alternative materials and information on accessing and pricing.


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.

Reusable Foodware Ordinance Features

The draft ordinance, which builds on the County’s polystyrene packaging ban, 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 will apply to all entities selling prepared food to the public in the County, including restaurants, grocery stores and delis, bakeries, carry-out, quick services, farmers markets, food trucks, and any other business with a health permit.

Survey Results

The Environmental Health Services division of the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) recently offered a survey about the County of Marin’s consideration of a ban on single-use plastic food service products at retail businesses. 310 residents from both unincorporated and incorporated Marin County responded to the survey.

The results of the survey showed that:

  • 95% of respondents are in favor of preventing plastic and other non-recyclable materials from going to landfill and polluting the environment in Marin County.
  • 90% of respondents are in favor of requiring food vendors to use foodware that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
  • 89% of respondents are in favor of a 'reusables for dine-in’ requirement.
  • 78% of respondents are in favor of a disposable cup charge.

Meetings and Hearings

The Reusable Foodware Ordinance Community Meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 19, 2020 has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled in late 2020.

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.