Foodservice Packaging Recovery Case Study

Seattle, Washington


In 2007, the Seattle City Council adopted Resolution 30990, which set a 70 percent recycling rate goal, along with targets for waste reduction. Seattle Public Utilities introduced city-wide composting, a robust recycling program and addressed reducing greenhouse gasses and waste. In doing so, Seattle has become a national leader among cities in greenhouse gas reduction and seeks to further that effort through waste reduction and increased recycling. Seattle’s citizens enjoy the ability to divert more items from the landfill, and Seattle’s restaurants are able to save money on waste collection costs, as compost collection is 30 percent less expensive than garbage pickup in Seattle.



Seattle requires all foodservice operators to use recyclable or compostable foodservice packaging. In addition, operators must collect recyclable and compostable packaging in clearly labeled bins and sign up for composting and recycling service offered by a collection service provider.

Recycling, Compost, and Trash collection bins and signage at Seattle restaurants

Foodservice Packaging Materials

Accepted in the recycling bin:

  • Coated and uncoated paper cups and plates

  • Coated and uncoated paper take-out containers

  • Paper bags

  • Paper egg cartons

  • Plastic cups

  • Plastic lids (3" or larger)

  • Plastic take-out containers


Not accepted in the recycling bin:

  • EPS items (Seattle banned EPS in 2009)


Accepted in the composting bin (if on their "approved" list):

  • Food-soiled egg cartons

  • Food-soiled uncoated paper cups, plates and containers

  • Napkins

  • Pizza boxes

  • PLA items


Seattle's material recovery facility (MRF) operator, Republic Services, has stated that food contamination is a concern but for all recyclable containers that come into contact with food, not just FSP. Foodservice packaging has proven to be a viable player in recycling, and Seattle’s MRF treats FSP just like any other recyclable material.  The general manager of Seattle's MRF has stated that "FSP is only noticeable if loads of material arrive from restaurants. None is noticeable in the mixed single stream recyclables from households." He is unable to measure how much FSP is handled through the MRF, but states that it is a low amount. With a low amount of FSP in the MRF's recycling stream, FSP flows through the stream without challenges just like any other material.


End Markets

Marketing bales that include FSP has not been a problem (paper FSP is included in mixed paper bales; plastic FSP is included in #3-7 bales). Note that polycoated paper FSP is baled and marketed with mixed paper. At the levels currently found in the material stream, FSP materials have not been an issue for the markets.


Key Findings and Recommendations

To cities considering offering recycling and composting of foodservice packaging, representatives of Seattle Public Utilities Solid Waste Division stress that outreach to stakeholders is critical to success. Stakeholders include: material haulers and MRF operators; restaurants and grocery stores; national fast food chains; packaging distributors and manufacturers; wholesale restaurant supply companies; food court operators; and compost processors.


Seattle recycling officials also point out the most significant thing the packaging industry can do is accurately mark each food service item, whether it is compostable or "recyclable when clean."


-December 2013

Toolkit brought to you by FPI's Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG).

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