Prepared Jointly by the Office of the Attorney General and CalRecycle.
The information in these FAQs is provided as a courtesy only; please refer to the statute for the full requirements of the law.
- Questions About Stores and Charges for Grocery Bags
- Questions About Certification of Reusable Grocery Bags and Recycled Paper Bags
- Questions About Enforcement
1. Questions About Stores and Charges for Grocery Bags
What are the basic requirements of California’s ban on single-use carryout bags?
The single-use carryout bag ban has many requirements and some exceptions. In general, the law prohibits most grocery stores, large retail stores with a pharmacy, and convenience stores that sell food and that hold a Type 20 or Type 21 license issued by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from providing their customers with bags designed for a single use only, unless the bags are made with recycled paper. Instead, stores must provide customers with reusable grocery bags or with recycled paper bags and must charge at least 10 cents for each bag.
What types of stores are subject to the single-use carryout bag ban?
The types of stores to which the bag ban applies can be found at Section 42280(g) of the Public Resources Code (PRC), which defines “Store” for purposes of the bag ban. Generally speaking, the bag ban covers:
- Full-line, self-service retail stores with gross annual sales of at least $2 million that sell a line of dry groceries, canned goods, or nonfood items, and some perishable items.
- Large retail stores with a pharmacy that have at least 10,000 square feet of retail space and that generate sales or use tax.
- Convenience stores, food marts, or liquor stores that are engaged in the retail sale of a limited line of goods, generally including milk, bread, soda, and snack foods, and that hold a Type 20 or Type 21 license issued by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
If you are uncertain whether a particular business meets the definition of “store” after reviewing PRC Section 42280(g), we recommend that you consult an attorney.
What kind of bags does the single-use carryout bag ban prohibit?
Although the law often is described as a “plastic bag ban,” it does not prohibit the distribution of all plastic bags. Rather, unless an exception applies, the ban applies to “single-use carryout bags.” Single-use carryout bags are defined as any bag made out of plastic, paper, or other material, unless the bag is made out of recycled paper or certified as a reusable grocery bag. In general, covered stores may not distribute any bag that is not a certified reusable grocery bag or recycled paper bag at a point of sale.
Are there any exceptions to the requirement that stores subject to the single-use carryout bag ban sell only reusable grocery bags or recycled paper bags?
Yes. Examples include bags used by pharmacies for prescriptions, bags without handles used to protect a purchased item from damage or contamination, and bags used to contain unwrapped food items like bulk foods are not banned. In addition, bags without handles that are designed to be placed over articles of clothing on a hanger, such as dry cleaning bags, are not banned by the new law.
What if a store would like to sell compostable plastic bags?
Under Section 42283 of the statute, stores may sell compostable plastic bags if they are located in a jurisdiction where the majority of residential households have access to curbside collection for composting and where the local government has voted to allow the sale of compostable bags to consumers. These bags must meet the specifications of the American Society of Testing and Materials International Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics D6400. Additionally, any store may sell compostable plastic bags that meet the requirements set out in section 42281 of the statute for compostable reusable plastic bags. Stores must charge at least 10 cents per compostable bag.
How much do stores have to charge for a reusable grocery bag or a recycled paper bag?
Stores must charge at least 10 cents per bag. They may charge more than that, but they cannot charge less. The fee is to ensure that the cost of providing grocery bags is not subsidized by customers who bring their own bags or otherwise do not require bags.
Who keeps the proceeds from the sale of reusable grocery bags and recycled paper bags?
The stores that sell the bags keep the money and must use it to cover the costs of providing the bags, complying with the bag ban, or encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags through educational materials or an educational campaign.
Who can answer questions about the application of tax to bags?
The Board of Equalization can answer tax-related questions about bags. Its toll-free number is 1-800-400-7115. Additional contact information is available on its website.
Can stores require their customers to purchase reusable grocery bags or recycled paper bags?
No. Stores may not require their customers to use, purchase, or accept any kind of bag.
If I am using a WIC payment card or voucher or an EBT card to pay, do I have to pay for a bag?
No. Stores are required to provide a reusable grocery bag or a recycled paper bag free of charge to customers using one of these payment methods.
Can stores subject to the single-use bag ban sell or distribute ANY grocery bag as long as it is reusable?
No. Stores may only sell or distribute reusable grocery bags made by producers that have been certified by a third-party certification entity to sell reusable grocery bags in California. Additionally, the bags must meet certain requirements to be considered a “reusable grocery bag.” See this page for information about certification.
2. Questions About Certification of Reusable Grocery Bags and Recycled Paper Bags
Do reusable grocery bags have to be certified?
Yes. All reusable grocery bags must be certified as meeting requirements set out in the statute. The requirements vary based upon the kind of material used to make the bags. In general, a reusable grocery bag must:
- Have a handle and be designed for at least 125 uses;
- Have a volume capacity of at least 15 liters (about 4 gallons);
- Be machine washable or capable of being cleaned and disinfected; and
- Have the manufacturer’s name, country, and a statement that the bag is a reusable bag designed for at least 125 uses printed on the bag or on a tag, as well as recycling instructions if the bag is recyclable.
Additional requirements apply to reusable grocery bags made out of plastic film. For instance, reusable grocery bags made from plastic film must now be made with a minimum of 20 percent postconsumer recycled material (this minimum increases to 40 percent in 2020), must be recyclable, and must be at least 2.25 mils thick. Please see the statute for full requirements.
How frequently must reusable grocery bags be certified?
Bag producers must resubmit proofs of certifications for reusable grocery bags every two years.
Who certifies that reusable bags meet the standards specified in the law?
Reusable grocery bag producers are required to provide CalRecycle with third-party certification by an independent, accredited ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory, demonstrating their bags meet the new requirements of Sections 42281 and 42281.5 of the Public Resources Code that apply to the producer’s types of bags.
Is there a separate certification requirement for suppliers of postconsumer recycled material used in plastic film reusable grocery bags?
No. The bag ban statute does not contain a separate requirement for postconsumer recycled material suppliers to certify their recycled plastic feedstock for use in manufacturing reusable grocery bags. However, the proof of certification submitted to CalRecycle by producers of reusable grocery bags made from plastic film must include verification of the required percentage of post-consumer recycled material content (20 percent before January 1, 2020 and 40 percent thereafter), as well as the information specified in Section 42281.5 of the Public Resources Code.
Where should bag producers submit proof of third-party certification of their reusable grocery bags?
Producers are required to submit proof of third-party certification via CalRecycle’s online database, the Reusable Grocery Bag Reporting System (RGBRS). CalRecycle will post a continuously updated list of Certified Reusable Bags and Producers as proofs of certification and supporting documents are received. Stores subject to the ban are responsible for ensuring the bags they sell are properly certified.
Can a person challenge a reusable grocery bag producer’s certification?
Yes. A person may object to the certification of a reusable grocery bag producer by filing an action for review of that certification in the superior court of a county that has jurisdiction over the reusable grocery bag producer.
Is there a certification requirement for recycled paper bags?
No, but recycled paper bags still must meet requirements set out in the statute. Specifically, a recycled paper bag must:
- Contain at least 40 percent postconsumer recycled material for bags rated above eight pounds, and at least 20 percent postconsumer recycled material for bags rated at eight pounds or smaller;
- Be accepted for recycling in curbside programs in a majority of households with access to curbside recycling programs in California; and
- Have printed on the bag the name of the manufacturer, country where the bag was manufactured, and the minimum percentage of postconsumer content.
What is CalRecycle’s role in implementing SB 270?
CalRecycle is required to publish on its website a list of producers that have submitted the required certification for each type of their reusable grocery bags sold in the state. The law also requires, among other things, that CalRecycle establish an administrative certification fee schedule to cover the Department’s costs. CalRecycle cannot provide interpretations of the law or advice about its applicability. Furthermore, CalRecycle does not endorse specific third-party certification entities or suppliers of postconsumer recycled material. If you are unsure if the law applies to you, please consult an attorney.
Will there be a rulemaking process?
Yes. For more information on rulemaking, please visit the SB 270 Rulemaking Webpage. To be apprised of these proceedings and to learn about future opportunities to participate and register public comments, please sign up for the Reusable Grocery Bag Certification (SB 270) Listserv or send inquiries to SB270@calrecycle.ca.gov.
3. Questions About Enforcement
Who enforces the single-use carryout bag ban?
Cities, counties, and the State of California enforce the bag ban.
Where can I report violations of the single-use carryout bag ban?
You can report violations to the California Attorney General’s Office using its on-line reporting form, or to the local District Attorney, City Attorney, or City Prosecutor’s office where the violation occurred.
What are the penalties for violating the single-use carryout bag ban?
A store or producer of reusable grocery bags that violates the law may be fined $1,000 per day for the first violation, $2,000 per day for the second violation, and $5,000 per day for the third and subsequent violations.
What if my city or county has its own bag ban?
Every store in California that is subject to the statewide single-use-carryout bag ban must comply with its requirements, regardless of where the store is located. If the store is located in a city or county that has its own bag ordinance, however, the store may need to comply with the local requirements as well.
A list of cities and counties that have adopted bag ordinances is available at this page. This page may not contain every local jurisdiction in California with an ordinance that restricts or prohibits the use of certain bags. Further, some of the ordinances listed on this page may be preempted by the statewide ban. You should check with your local city or county authority to verify whether your city or county has its own bag ban ordinance that is in effect.
Where can I learn how cities and counties verify that reusable bags meet certification requirements?
Here are a few examples: