Food Service Packaging at State Facilities
In a groundbreaking law, California is taking a first step to reduce the amount of food service packaging thrown away and littered in the environment by requiring certain food service facilities to serve customers with packaging that is either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. SB 1335 (Allen, Chapter 610, Statutes of 2018) ensures that food service packaging is compatible with the state’s recycling and composting systems according to criteria developed by CalRecycle through the rulemaking process. Implementation of SB 1335 will encourage improvements in packaging design to protect public health and wildlife, establish more takeback and reusable options at state facilities, and reduce contamination of recycling and composting streams.
Regulated entities include:
- Food service operations located in a state-owned facility (such as a cafeteria in a state agency building)
- Concessionaires on a state-owned property (such as a food vendor at a state park or beach)
- Businesses under contract to provide food service to a state agency to dispense prepared food (such as a business providing food to a state hospital)
SB 1335 requires CalRecycle to maintain a List of Approved Food Service Packaging (List), which includes products that meet the specified reusable, recyclable, or compostable criteria. Food service packaging products that must be approved include bowls, cups, plates, containers, and trays. However, mass-produced prepackaged food and beverage containers and single-use disposable items—such as straws, lids, plastic bags, and utensils—are exempt from the law.
CalRecycle must review and evaluate the List at least once every five years to determine whether food service packaging items continue to meet the criteria. CalRecycle will remove a food service packaging item from the List if it determines that the item no longer meets the established criteria. CalRecycle may also remove an item from the List based on its potential to contribute to litter, public health, or wildlife impacts.
Reusable, Recyclable, and Compostable Criteria
The criteria established in the SB 1335 regulations incorporate real-world conditions and performance metrics to ensure products can be routinely managed within the state’s existing infrastructure. These criteria requirements are briefly summarized below. The full description of the criteria requirements can be found in the regulations.
Reusable products must meet one of the following criteria:
- Withstand 780 commercial wash cycles (or)
- Covered by a warranty guaranteeing that the product will remain reusable for a minimum of one year
Recyclable products must meet the following criteria:
- Are a minimum of two inches measured in at least two dimensions (e.g., length and width)
- Does not contain additives that initiate or accelerate fragmentation
- Are collected by 60 percent of recycling programs statewide
- Have sufficient commercial value to be marketed for recycling
- Are sorted and aggregated into defined streams (e.g., mixed paper, PET) by 60 percent of large volume transfer/processing facilities in the state
- Effective January 1, 2026, are collected, and sorted and aggregated by 75 percent of recycling programs statewide.
Alternatively, a food service packaging item may meet some of the recyclable criteria through a takeback program. In this case, 60 percent of the food service packaging items must be recovered and transported to a transfer/processing or recycling facility via a takeback program to be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling.
Compostable products must meet either of the following criteria:
- Are collected and accepted by 50 percent of organic waste recycling programs and compost facilities that accept mixed materials statewide (this threshold increases to 75 percent on January 1, 2026)
- Are included in a takeback program that annually recovers 50 percent of food service packaging items that are distributed at state food service facilities (this threshold increases to 75 percent on January 1, 2026)
Plastic and plastic-coated food service packaging must meet several additional criteria to demonstrate these products can be composted in a safe and timely manner:
- Meet the ASTM standards D6400-19 or D6868-19, as applicable
- Demonstrate 90 percent biodegradation within 60 days
- Comply with the statutory requirements to be labeled “compostable” in California
Public Health and Litter Impacts Criteria
Food service packaging items included on the List must also meet several public health criteria regarding regulated metals and intentionally added per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Additionally, food service packaging manufacturers are required to disclose if a product contains chemicals included on the Proposition 65 list. More information regarding these requirements can be found in the Questions and Answers (coming soon).
Sustainable Packaging Act Reporting System (SPARS)
Food service packaging manufacturers seeking to have an item added to the List must demonstrate the item meets the criteria established in the regulations. Applicants can utilize the Sustainable Packaging Act Reporting System (SPARS) portal to submit applications for a single item or a group of items to be evaluated for inclusion on the List.
In addition, the SPARS portal includes a Materials List that identifies material types that have already been determined by CalRecycle to meet a subset of the recyclable or compostable criteria. The Materials List is intended to streamline the application and approval process for food service packaging that is made with materials routinely recycled and composted in the state.
For Additional Information:
SB 1335 Questions and Answers (coming soon)
SB 1335 Listserv: https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/Listservs/Subscribe/156
Phone: (916) 341-6518