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What is a Legal Reusable Bag in California?

legal reusable bag graphic

There is more to a legal reusable bag than meets the eye. Even though California banned plastic bags in 2016, consumers in the Golden State still sometimes see a plastic bag at the checkout stand and wonder, is that legal?  They may as well wonder, when eyeing a bag that they assume is legal, if that bag is out of compliance with the law.

A legal reusable bag as defined by the state must meet a whole plethora of standards, and some of them are not readily visible.  While California uses the same usage standards and thickness standards as most other bag bans to define what makes a bag classified as reusable, it adds a few more standards that others don’t.

What is banned:  Thin reusable bags like the so-called Thank You or T-Shirt bags.

What is allowed: Paper bags and Reusable bags are allowed at check out.  Reusable bags are carefully defined as follows.

A Legal Resuable Bag

To be a legal reusable bag, the bag must be:

  • Designed for at least 125 uses, with a use defined as the capacity to hold 22 pounds while walking 175 feet.
  • If it is a plastic film bag, it must be at least 2.6 mils thick and must meet certain minimum standards for recycled content.
  • If it is a sewn bag, fabric weight must be at least 80 GSM.
  • It must have handles
  • It must be machine washable or of a material that can be washed. (For more on washing bags, see our page on washability.)
  • It must comply with tagging information required by Prop. 67 including manufacturer and recycling information.
  • It must comply for non-toxicity
  • Plastic film bags must be purchased from a certified reusable bag manufacturer. All certified manufacturers, including 1 Bag at a Time, have proven they pass all regulations and have been approved by the State to supply legal reusable bags.

Additional Legal Specifications

Beyond the bag itself, the state has other requirements that qualify a bag as a legal reusable bag.

In addition to the above specifications, all bags offered for carryout at stores must have a charge of at least ten cents.  No carryout bags, whether reusable or paper, are allowed to be given out for free.

Paper bags are not banned and not defined as reusable, but if they are offered, they must have at least 40% Post-Consumer Waste content and must have a charge of at least ten cents.

Compostable plastic bags are allowed only in jurisdictions where a majority of households have access to municipal composting programs. Compostable bags, where allowed, are subject to certain restrictions including a mandatory ten cent fee.

Bags not designed for carry out, like produce bags, pharmacy bags, candy or bulk item bags, are not covered by the ban and may be provided free of charge.

If you are looking for a legal reusable bag, use the form below to get a quote. As bag specialists, we have been involved in developing bag legislation in California for over 12 years.  Even if you are in a different state, we’ll be happy to look up your local law and make sure you comply.

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