Disposable Foodware Regulations

On February 5, 2020, the City of Arcata City Council adopted Ordinance No. 1527 to establish regulations related to single-use disposable foodware items. The ordinance is meant to reduce the use of single-use plastic foodware that contribute to street litter, marine pollution, harm to wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste sent to landfills. The ordinance is applicable to all food service establishments including but not limited to: restaurants, grocery stores, bars, cafes, food vendors, and cafeterias. 

Although effective March 5, 2020, the ordinance provisions won’t be enforced until January 1, 2021.

Environmental Impact of Single-Use Plastics

Locally, the Northcoast Environmental Center reported picking up approximately 1,843 single-use plastic foodware products during their 2019 Coastal Clean-up Day. A staggering 3,875 plastic pieces (microplastics) were also picked up. Plastic pollution in our oceans is only part of the problem. Single-use plastics not only create a litter and pollution issue; they also contribute to the climate crisis by contributing to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via materials extraction, product production, and waste disposal. 

Ordinance Provisions 

Effective since October 1, 2015: 

  1. Prohibition on the sale and distribution of polystyrene (styrofoam) disposable foodware.
    • Exemptions: 
      • Pre-packaged food (ex. ramen noodles in a polystyrene cup or pre-packaged food sold at a grocery store). 
      • Medical supplies and services. 
      • Products made from polystyrene that is wholly encapsulated or encased by a more durable material (ex. surfboards, boats, life preservers, etc.). 

Effective starting March 5, 2020: 

  1. Food Vendors with proper dishwashing capacity must use reusable foodware for onsite dining.
    • Disposable foodware such as paper food wrappers, napkins, straws, and paper liners are allowed for onsite dining but must be fiber-based compostable. 
  2. Accessory foodware must be provided upon request or at a self-serve station. 
    • Accessory foodware includes straws, stirrers, napkins, and utensils; condiments cups and packets; cup sleeves, tops, lids, and spill plugs; and any other similar accessory or accompanying foodware item used as part of food or beverage service packaging. 
    • Disposable cups for delivery services may include tops, spill plugs, and sleeves without request. 
    • Food vendors offering condiments are encouraged to use dispensers rather than pre-packaged disposable condiment packages. 
  3. All single-use disposable foodware, including accessory foodware, must be fiber-based compostable and free of fluorinated chemicals (PFAS). 
    • Disposable foodware composed entirely of aluminum is exempt.
  4. Food Vendors must charge a $0.25 fee for takeout food and beverage served in single-use disposable foodware. 
    • All customers demonstrating a payment card or voucher issued by the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or an Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT) are exempt from the disposable foodware charge. 
    • The $0.25 fee is per customer order, NOT per item. For example, if a customer orders two cups of coffee to go, then the customer would only be charged $0.25.  
  5. Food Vendors must offer a minimum $0.25 discount for customers who bring their own reusable foodware for takeout food and beverage.
    • In accordance with the California Health and Safety Code, food vendors may refuse, at their sole discretion, any customer provided reusable foodware that is cracked, chipped, corroded, appears inappropriate in size, material, or condition for the intended beverage or food item, or that appears to be excessively soiled or unsanitary. 

Acceptable Foodware Materials

Reusable (metal, glass, ceramic, etc.)WoodFood-based (pasta, wheat, etc.) 
Paper or plant fiber (sugarcane, bamboo, rice, etc.) Composted entirely of aluminum


Foodware Material Cost Comparison


Plates (9")
Bowls (24oz)
Clamshells Trays Straws
CompliantNon-compliant Compliant Non-compliantCompliantNon-compliantCompliantNon-compliantCompliantNon-compliant
Item price 1$0.05$0.02
$0.24
$0.19
$0.26
$0.59
$0.19
$0.29
$0.05

$0.01
Item price 2
$0.01
$0.60
$0.18
$0.18
$0.24
$0.63
$0.15
$0.23

$0.02
$0.003
Item price 3$0.07
$0.08
$0.21
$0.21
$0.25
$0.40
$0.13
$0.20
$0.02
$0.003
Item price 4$0.06
$0.06
$0.30
$0.36
$0.29
$0.33
$0.17
$0.27
$0.01
$0.05
Item price 5$0.11
$0.30
$0.23
$0.21
$0.37
$0.50
$0.40
$0.21
$0.02
$0.01
Average Price/unit$0.06$0.21$0.23$0.23$0.28$0.49$0.21$0.24$0.02$0.02

Table. 1: This table lists various average costs per unit of different disposable foodware products. It is important to note that there are many products on the market, and prices may be susceptible to change. Often times bulk orders through suppliers result in a lower price/unit cost, so actual costs may be lower than those listed here.

Why are compostable plant-based plastics not acceptable?  

Polylactic acid or PLA is a plastic material made from plants instead of traditional petroleum-based plastics. If certified compostable, this material can only be composed in a commercial composting facility with high heat and processing. Unfortunately, no such facility exists within Humboldt County. When these PLA foodware products get into the natural environment like our creeks and oceans they act like traditional petroleum-based plastic. 

Exemptions 

The City of Arcata will annually exempt specific disposable foodware products that do not yet have a fiber-based alternative on the market. A list of exempted items will be made available here for viewing within the next few months. 

Waivers 

Food Vendors may request a waiver for specific disposable foodware items that the City of Arcata has not exempted if the food vendor can document that the purchase of a fiber-based item will cost 200% (3x) more than the purchase of their current disposable foodware item. If a specific disposable food ware item is granted a waiver, then it must be recyclable instead of fiber-based compostable.