California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Packaging Waste Reduction

Laws and Regulations

This page provides information on federal, state, and local packaging-related legislative and regulatory requirements as well as guidance materials. This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing, but rather to demonstrate the range of existing laws and regulations.

California Statewide Packaging-Related Laws           

  • AB 341 (75 Percent Initiative). AB 341 requires CalRecycle to issue a report to the Legislature that includes strategies and recommendations that would enable the state to divert 75 percent of the solid waste generated in the state from disposal by January 1, 2020. Instead of focusing primarily on local diversion, the law calls for a statewide approach to decreasing California’s reliance on landfills.
  • At-Store Recycling Program: Plastic Carryout Bags. Administered by CalRecycle, the At-Store Recycling Program requires that plastic carryout bag recycling drop-off bins be made available at all regulated supermarkets and large retail stores with a pharmacy. Participating stores are required to place recycling bins in a readily accessible location for consumers, assure the collected bags are recycled, and provide reusable bags.
  • Beverage Container Recycling Laws. CalRecycle administers these laws via the Beverage Container Recycling Program. Beverage containers covered under the act are subject to California Redemption Value (CRV), which is 5 cents for containers less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for containers 24 ounces or larger. Most beverages packaged in aluminum, glass, plastic, and bi-metal containers are eligible for CRV. Notable exceptions are milk, wine, and distilled spirits, which are not included in the CRV program. More than 300 billion aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage containers have been recycled since the program began in 1987.
  • California Integrated Waste Management Act (AB 939). Among others, the law included a provision that cities and counties (local jurisdictions) divert 25 percent of all solid waste from landfills or transformation facilities by 1995 through source reduction, recycling, and composting activities and 50 percent by the year 2000 through source reduction, recycling, and composting activities. Local jurisdictions currently implement more than 16,000 diversion programs to comply with the law.
  • Expanded Polystyrene Loose-Fill Packaging Law. Enacted in 2008, this law prohibits a wholesaler or manufacturer from selling or offering for sale, expanded polystyrene loose fill packaging in California unless it is comprised of a specified amount of recycled material as provided in a schedule that increases that percentage until January 1, 2017, when it must be comprised of 100 percent recycled material.
  • Glass Minimum Content Requirements (see Chapter 4). California manufacturers of new glass containers must use at least 35 percent post-consumer recycled glass, or 25 percent if the cullet is mixed-color. Likewise, fiberglass insulation manufacturers must use at least 30 percent post-consumer glass. In recent years, the two industries in California have used more than 700,000 tons of cullet annually.
  • Mandatory Commercial Recycling. As of July 1, 2012, all businesses and public entities that generate four or more cubic yards of solid waste per week and multifamily residential dwellings that have five or more units are required to recycle. Each jurisdiction is required to implement a mandatory commercial recycling program with education, outreach, and monitoring components. Program implementation will be monitored and evaluated by CalRecycle staff as part of the formal AB 939 annual jurisdiction review process as well as via CalRecycle’s waste characterization studies.
  • Plastic Carryout Bag Ban. On November 8, 2016, California voters approved Proposition 67, the statewide Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban. As a result, the new law is in effect and most grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts, and liquor stores will no longer be able to provide single-use plastic carry-out bags to their customers. Instead, these stores may provide a reusable grocery bag or recycled paper bag to a customer at the point of sale at a charge of at least 10 cents. ycled paper bag or reusable plastic bag sold to a customer at the point of sale.
  • Recycled-Content Trash Bag Program. CalRecycle monitors provisions of these laws. Since 1998, manufacturers and wholesalers of plastic trash bags are required to certify compliance of certain recycled content requirements.
  • Rigid Plastic Packaging Container (RPPC) Law. Administered by CalRecycle, the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container (RPPC) law was enacted in 1991 as part of an effort to reduce the amount of plastic waste disposed in California landfills and to increase the use of recycled post-consumer plastic. The law mandates that product manufacturers that sell products held in RPPCs meet one of several compliance options, such as a minimum of 25 percent post-consumer material content, source reduction, and reusable or refillable RPPCs.
  • Toxics in Packaging Laws. Administered by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), these laws prohibit the intentional introduction of cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium into product packaging or packaging components since 2006. More information, including a variety of fact sheets, guidance on laboratory analysis for toxics in packaging, and certificates of compliance, can be found on DTSC’s Toxics in Packaging page.

California Local Packaging-Related Regulations

Packaging-specific bans and ordinances at the local level in California range from banning the use of nonrecyclable and/or noncompostable food service packaging, banning expanded polystyrene packaging, fees on paper bags, and landfill bans on recyclables. Among the objectives cited by local jurisdictions when adopting the bans and ordinances:

  • The reduction of land-based litter that clogs storm drains and contributes to marine debris, which results in increased public expense to maintain the storm drainage system and causes harm to marine life,
  • The desire to reduce of the use of petroleum-based materials and materials going to landfill,
  • Encouraging polystyrene packaging alternatives with reduced environmental and economic impacts.

Check out the Surfrider Foundation’s webpage on Polystyrene Ordinances and Plastic Bag Bans and Fees for examples of how these policies are used in California.

Federal Guidance and Regulations

  • Federal Trade Commission Green Guides (revised October 2012). The Federal Trade Commission issued revised “Green Guides” to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and not deceptive.
  •  Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA regulates how most food is processed, packaged, and labeled. Below are some resources provided by the FDA relative to packaging:
    • Consumer Information About Packaging. This site provides links to information about food packaging that may be relevant to consumers.
    • Recycled Plastic in Food Packaging. The FDA provides guidance to help manufacturers of food packaging evaluate processes for incorporating recycled plastic into food packaging to help address the following concerns: 1) that contaminants from the post-consumer material may appear in the final food-contact product made from the recycled material; 2) that recycled post-consumer material not regulated for food-contact use may be incorporated into food-contact packaging; and 3) that adjuvants in the recycled plastic may not comply with the regulations for food-contact use.
    • Ingredients, Packaging, and Labeling. This page includes information on allergens, ingredients, food and color additives, food contact substances, and labeling requirements. 
Last updated: June 23, 2017
Packaging Waste Reduction, http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/ReduceWaste/Packaging/
Contact: packaging@calrecycle.ca.gov, (916) 341-6449