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Trash Talk, Business Edition

Whether you are a business owner, manager, or employee, you need to know and comply with the District’s environmental and waste management regulations. Not only is it the right thing to do, but violations can lead to civil fines and penalties of up to $25,000 per day and even criminal penalties. Avoid all that by familiarizing yourself with the regulations and practices below.

Environment Violations

DOEE inspectors respond to violations of DC environmental laws and regulations such as air quality protections, the bag law, paint disposal, and electronics recycling by issuing warnings, fines, and orders. For many violations, DOEE has a two-step enforcement process. The first step is issuance of an Enforcement Notice. If this does not resolve the violation(s), DOEE takes the second step: issuance of a Notice of Infraction. The following links provides information on the two steps:

Find FAQs about this process here.

Florescent Light Bulb Disposal

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks, some of the mercury is released as vapor. To minimize exposure, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends following these cleanup and disposal steps.

Food Establishment Inspections

For detailed information, see the DC Health (DOH) guide to Understanding Food Establishment Inspections, which includes how to read an inspection report and an overview of violations.

Pollution Prevention

It is a violation of the District of Columbia Water Pollution Control Act to discharge oil, used motor oil, gasoline, antifreeze, acid, as well as corrosive, flammable, or explosive material into a sewer or in public space. Practice the following pollution prevention tips:

  • Dispose of or store all chemicals including paint, oils, lubricants, cleaners, solvents, corrosive substances according to the product label;

  • Do not pour unwanted chemicals on public space, down any drain, and never into the storm sewer or catch basin;

  • Sidewalk should be swept clean regularly;

  • If a large spill occurs and reaches or enters the storm drain, call the District Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency at (202) 727-6161.

Rat Control

The following practices are not only beneficial for rat control, but they protect your business from costly fines and penalties:

  • Regularly check trash containers to ensure that tops and bottoms are secure and free from holes;

  • Trash must be removed frequently enough that containers do not overflow;

  • Store cooking grease in proper containers with tightly fitting lids and ensure their exterior remains clean and free from grease;

  • Seal all holes in exterior walls, floors, and foundations and fit basement windows with wire mesh;

  • Eliminate all clutter outside the building;

  • Regularly power-wash trash receptacles and surrounding area; and

  • If using an exterminator, make sure the company is licensed in the District.

Trash companies are responsible for cleaning up the alleys and ensuring that no waste is left in the area. However, should you see a truck leaving fluids, trash, etc. please call the company's customer service line so that they can return to address the situation.


Effective January 1, 2018, all commercial properties or establishments in DC must maintain an active commercial recycling program to process the full suite of materials on the Mayor's List including many paper, plastic, metal, and glass items. A commercial recycling program includes separation of recyclables from other solid waste, ensuring an adequate number of containers for separated recyclables and hiring a licensed, registered recycling hauler to regularly pick up recyclables. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines from $200 for a first offense to $1500 for the third violation of the same regulation within 60 days. For additional information, tools, and resources, check out Zero Waste DC's Recycling for Businesses.

Solid Waste Control and Collection

The regulations that pertain to the control and containment solid waste and sanitation are found in Title 21, Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 and regarding food, in Subtitle A of Title 24, Chapter 5 of the DC Municipal Regulations (DCMR). Among these regulations are the following:

Control Practices

  • All solid waste, regardless of whether it came from your business, must be properly stored at all times in a container with a tightly fitting lid and in manner that will not provide food, homes, or breeding grounds for insects or rodents, or create a nuisance or fire hazard.

  • All waste containers must be approved for the District and the materials they contain, appropriately labelled and located, and kept clean and in good repair. For the letter of the law, see Solid Waste Containers and Specifications.

  • Waste containers must sit on a nonabsorbent surface such as concrete or asphalt that is also smooth, durable, and sloped to drain or be kept in an enclosure made from durable, cleanable materials.

  • Signage most be posted in the waste storage area indicating which materials are to be source separated and recycled.

  • You are responsible for keeping the public space around your business clean and free from litter.

Collection Practices

  • If the District does not collect your trash, you must use a licensed sold waste collector.

  • Trash must be collected at least twice a week, unless the Mayor approves otherwise.

  • All collectors are required to register and report to DPW. In addition, collectors who either collect trash or operate a collection vehicle with a dumping mechanism must obtain a license with DCRA.

Straw Ban

Effective January 1, 2019, businesses and organizations that sell or serve food or beverages in DC must no longer use single-use plastic straws or stirrers when serving their customers, except by request of individuals with disabilities. Since then, DOEE has been inspecting businesses for compliance and issuing unofficial warnings. On July 1, 2019, DOEE will start issuing official warnings and fines to businesses and organizations still providing single-use plastic straws and stirrers. For more information including compliant products, read this straw one-pager from Zero Waste DC.

Styrofoam Ban

The Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 banned the use of disposable food service ware made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam or StyrofoamTM, and other products that cannot be recycled or composted. The ban on foam began on January 1, 2016 and applies to all District businesses and organizations that serve food. The additional recyclable and compostable food service ware requirements became effective on January 1, 2017.


For additional resources, check out:

Do you have recommendations for licensed solid waste collectors or exterminators? Tell us!


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