I'm interested in how de minimis principles can apply in law and especially started thinking about it after reading that certain cities require food waste to be put in a plastic bag. For example, this source says that food waste "should be drained, wrapped and placed in a plastic bag before placing in [a] garbage cart." Likewise, this PDF for another city says that food waste should be "drained, wrapped and placed in [a] plastic bag."

What then is food waste? According to the EPA, even plate waste qualifies:

Food waste refers to food such as plate waste [emphasis mine] (i.e., food that has been served but not eaten), spoiled food, or peels and rinds considered inedible that is sent to feed animals, to be composted or anaerobically digested, or to be landfilled or combusted with energy recovery.

While I could be wrong, I have trouble thinking that all uneaten food on a plate must be put in a plastic bag before being thrown away. If such were the case, would even food crumbs qualify as food waste, or would this exemplify a de minimis exception?

Related: Are city regulations stating food waste should be in "platic bags" require bags specifically for food waste?

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    Operationally, if you're not using 13 gallon plastic kitchen bags or 30 gallon plastic trash can liners to consolidate your trash inside your house or apartment, what happens in your scenario? You would take the plate from your kitchen to wherever your streetside trash cans or building dumpster containers are positioned, and scrape the loose crumbs in?
    – user662852
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 21:09
  • @user662852 Oh, wait, those plastic bags? The fact that they mentioned plastic bags specifically when discussing food was giving me the impression that they were separate from the everyday bags that are regularly put in kitchen trash containers to begin with. Are the sources in the link from my OP just referring to the bags that are put in trash containers to begin with? If so, I'm embarrassed, haha! At the same time, if the reference is just to those plastic bags, then why are they mentioned specifically under the "food waste" section?
    – The Editor
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:16
  • Stated another way, are the plastic bags supposed to be used for food specifically, or does a plastic bag with food and all sorts of other trash all in it still qualify?
    – The Editor
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:17
  • Update: Since it's a related question, I just asked it separately (link now in OP).
    – The Editor
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


De minimis only applies when you are actually dealing with the law, that is, someone ends up in court. I am unaware of any jurisdiction which makes it a crime to "mishandle" food waste. Usually, a company is granted a monopoly over waste management for residences in a certain jurisdiction, the government vaguely indicates what the service is supposed to do (sometimes because the recipient of the waste is a government-run waste facility), then the service communicates to customers what their policies will be. The use of "should" in such communications does not imply "legally and enforceably must".

The waste management business has a contract with the individual to provide specified services, which may for example "imply" that you are not allowed to throw yard waste in regular trash. If your trash contains a leaf of grass, that might technically be contrary to their policy, but the possibilities of a consequence for the individual depends on what is in the contract. It is possible that a surcharge can be added to a bill, but typically this only happens in the case of egregious and repeated violations, with multiple prior notices.

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    aaaand you are somewhat wrong on that there are generally no rule on mishandling: such is usually a municipal or state ordinance. For example in Germany, commercial food waste needs to be put into the biological waste bin (usually green or brown) or brought to a certified processor in a non-leaking container. If you do not do that, that's a misdemeanor and you might be liable for polluting.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 18:44
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    In my current location, and in some previous US residences pickuo is handled directly by a local government, and the rules on how both trash and recycling are to be set out are government regulations, probably backed by an ordinance. There may be a penalty specified in the ordinance, but in practice if something left at the curb is considered unsuitable, it is simply not picked up at all. In some other places there was a private contractor, with no govt involvement. (Their bills read "Satisfaction guaranteed or double your garbage back".) Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 20:23

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