California (Plastic Law) Adventure!

California holds within it countless natural wonders. In a days journey you can experience the coast, the mountains and even the deserts without ever leaving the state. Having grown up here, I feel incredibly fortunate because I've always had nature at my fingertips. Despite my many years here, there is still so much to explore.

Henry Coe State Park, Photo Credit: Colter Cook

Of those places visited I've noticed a commonality. No matter how far in nature you go, you'll always find trash. So to continue my exploration of California I decided to venture into an area I had never experienced... California Law.


On a daily basis, whether at work or in my personal life, I concern myself with trash. I ponder how it got there, what to do with it, and how to prevent it. California, when it comes to green innovations, is usually a front runner. It occurred to me the state has several plastic bans, but I've never taken it upon myself to read the full letter of the law. After some research I found said laws deep within the Public Resources Code of California. (Linked HERE if you would like to read for yourself).


Trash found in the natural areas around Coyote Creek. Photo Credit: Colter Cook

Through the process I discovered laws tend to be long, full of redundancies for clarification and references to other source material. So if you don't feel up to reading these laws for yourself, rest assured I've synthesized them into digestible chunks:


Plastic Packaging Containers (1995)

Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, every rigid plastic packaging container sold or offered for sale in this state shall, on average, meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Be made from 25 percent postconsumer material.

  2. Have a recycling rate of 45 percent if it is a product-associated rigid plastic packaging container or a single resin type of rigid plastic packaging container.

  3. Be a reusable package or a refillable package.

  4. Be a source reduced container.

  5. Is a container containing floral preservative that is subsequently reused by the floral industry for at least two years.

Plastic Ring Devices (1998)

  1. No container shall be sold or offered for sale at retail in this state that is connected to any other container by means of a plastic ring or similar plastic device that is not degradable when disposed of as litter.

Plastic Trash Bags (1998)

  1. On and after January 1, 1998, every manufacturer of regulated bags shall do one of the following:

  2. Ensure that its plastic trash bags intended for sale in this state contain a quantity of recycled plastic postconsumer material equal to at least 10 percent of the weight of the regulated bags.

  3. Ensure that at least 30 percent of the weight of the material used in all of its plastic products intended for sale in this state is recycled plastic postconsumer material.

  4. Beginning March 1, 1999, and annually thereafter, every manufacturer subject to this section shall certify to the board that it has used the required amount of recycled plastic postconsumer material annually.

  5. Annually on or before July 1, the board shall publish a list of any suppliers, manufacturers, or wholesalers who have failed to comply with this chapter.

  6. Any manufacturers not in compliance shall not be eligible for State contracts or subcontracts.

Expanded Polystyrene Loosefill Packaging (2006)

  1. On and after January 1, 2012, a wholesaler or manufacturer shall not sell or offer for sale in this state expanded polystyrene loosefill packaging material.

  2. This does not apply to expanded polystyrene loosefill packaging materials that consist of 100 percent recycled material.

Plastic Products (2013)

  1. A person shall not sell a plastic product in this state that is labeled with the term “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decomposable,” or any form of those terms, or in any way imply that the plastic product will break down, fragment, biodegrade, or decompose in a landfill or other environment.

  2. A manufacturer of a compostable plastic bag meeting an American Society for Testing and Materials standard specification shall ensure that the compostable plastic bag is readily and easily identifiable from other plastic bags.

Single-Use Carryout Bags (2016)

  1. On and after July 1, 2015 a store shall not provide a single-use carryout bag to a customer at the point of sale.

  2. A store may make available for purchase a recycled paper bag,reusable grocery bag, or compostable bag. The store shall not sell a bag for less than ten cents ($0.10).

  3. Any reusable bags will be defined as being able to carry 22 pounds over a distance of 175 feet for a minimum of 125 uses.

  4. All moneys collected pursuant to this article shall be retained by the store and may be used only for the following purposes:

  5. Costs associated with complying with the requirements of this article.

  6. Actual costs of providing recycled paper bags or reusable grocery bags.

  7. Costs associated with a store’s educational materials or educational campaign encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags.

Plastic Microbeads Prevention Law (2016)

  1. On and after January 1, 2020, a person shall not sell or offer for promotional purposes in this state any personal care products containing plastic microbeads that are used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product, including, but not limited to, toothpaste.

  2. This does not apply to a person that sells or offers for promotional purposes a personal care product containing plastic microbeads in an amount less than 1 part per million (ppm) by weight.

Sustainable Packaging for the State of California Act of 2018

  1. Food service facilities located in a state-owned facility, operating on or acting as a concessionaire on state-owned property, or under contract to provide food service to a state agency to dispense prepared food using food service packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

Single-Use Plastic Straws (2019)

  1. On January 1, 2019, a full-service restaurant shall not provide a single-use plastic straw to a consumer unless requested by the consumer.

Small Plastic Bottles (2020)

  1. Commencing January 1, 2023, for lodging establishments with more than 50 rooms, and January 1, 2024, for lodging establishments with 50 rooms or less, a lodging establishment shall not provide a small plastic bottle containing a personal care product to a person staying in a sleeping room accommodation, in any space within the sleeping room accommodation, or within bathrooms shared by the public or guests.

  2. A lodging establishment is encouraged to use bulk dispensers of personal care products to reduce plastic waste and lower operating costs, mindful of the health and safety of a person.

  3. A lodging establishment may provide personal care products in small plastic bottles to a person at no cost, upon request, at a place other than a sleeping room accommodation, a space within the sleeping room accommodation, or within bathrooms shared by the public or guests.

California Poppy. Photo Credit: Colter Cook

After reading through these laws I feel even more thankful for living here. In the original text of the Microbead Ban the state of California acknowledges the following:

  • Plastic does not biodegrade into elements or compounds commonly found in nature like other organic materials, but, instead, upon exposure to the elements photodegrades into smaller pieces of plastic causing land and water pollution that is virtually impossible to remediate.

  • Plastic pollution is the dominant type of anthropogenic debris found throughout the marine environment.

  • Plastic pollution is an environmental and human health hazard and a public nuisance.

It might seem like a little thing, but it brings me great joy knowing that these words exist in the governing document of my state. I hope after reading this you feel the same.

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