Guide to Laws Affecting the Environment in California
California is a leader when it comes to environmental laws and regulation. In particular, the state of California has now passed a law restricting plastic straws at restaurants. It’s not quite a “plastic straw ban,” but see below for more.
In addition to these state and local laws, there are also federal laws about the environment, which you can find at our Guide to Laws Affecting the Environment in the U.S.
1. Plastic Bags
Are certain stores in California prohibited from using plastic bags for my purchase?
Are stores in California allowed to charge me for bags?
Yes, they are allowed to charge 10 cents for each paper bag.
Do cities have their own rules about plastic bags?
If the city had passed a plastic bag ban before Jan 1, 2015, such as the Los Angeles bag law, the city can enforce its own law. But most of the city laws are almost identical to the state law.
Is polystyrene foam (“styrofoam”) banned in California?
Currently polystyrene foam (also known as styrofoam) is not banned statewide in California, but many cities have banned it from being used in takeout food packaging, including Hermosa Beach, Laguna Beach, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and many more. See full list of cities banning polystyrene.
3. Plastic straws
Are plastic straws banned in California?
In the cities of San Francisco and Malibu, plastic straws are essentially entirely banned. That is, businesses are not allowed to give out plastic drinking straws at all.
As for the rest of California, there is a not-quite “plastic straw ban” but more like a “straws on request” regulation. As of January 2019, restaurants in California are not allowed to give customers plastic straws unless they specifically request it. Fast food restaurants are exempt from this law, although starting in April 2019, the city of Los Angeles will apply this to fast food chains, large grocery stores, and other large food vendors. In October the regulation will apply to small businesses of these types.
Straws made out of other materials, such as paper straws, are not affected by any of these laws.
4. Other plastic items
Are any other plastic items banned?
More and more cities in California are starting to prohibit restaurants and food vendors from selling or offering plastic stirrers, utensils, and other items. As of May 2018 this includes Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Malibu.
5. Oil & Gas
Are companies allowed to drill for oil off the coast of California?
No NEW offshore oil drilling platforms are allowed to be built, but the Trump administration is looking to change that. However, in September 2018, California passed laws prohibiting new oil drilling-related infrastructure, such as pipelines, within state waters (the state controls the water up to 3 miles off the coast, while the federal government controls the water past 3 miles).
There are currently 32 offshore platforms off the coasts of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange Counties built back in the 1950s which are allowed to continue to produce oil.
Can oil companies lay pipes on state lands?
Are gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and generators illegal?
Starting in 2024, there will be a ban on sales of gas powered lawn equipment, and gas powered generators. Some cities already ban the use of some of these items, including the city of Los Angeles.
6. Waste, Garbage, and Composting
Is composting required in California?
As of January 1, 2022, a new law takes effect that will require most residents and businesses to separate their food waste (sometimes called “organic waste” or “green waste”) from other garbage. But you can’t be penalized for not doing so just yet. Fines will start in January 2024, when penalties can range from $50 to $100 for a first offense, and up to $500 for third and subsequent failures.
The law, California SB 1383, will be implemented differently in different cities. Many cities will start allowing kitchen waste to be placed in the green bins, which are generally for yard waste. San Francisco, Berkeley, and Costa Mesa have already been allowing and/or enforcing this for years.
Residents also may compost their food scraps themselves, such as in their backyard, or take them to composting sites. When these programs take effect, you will be expected to separate or compost all possible parts of food, including fruits and vegetables, cooked meat, bones, fish, soups and small amounts of grease.
See more on this at our full page on the new composting/food waste separation law.
Is it illegal to throw out household cleaners in the trash or toilet?
YES! The following is considered “hazardous waste” and it is against the law to dispose these in your refuse bin, storm drains or sewers:
- Electronic waste such as computers, monitors, televisions, printers, network equipment, cables, telephones, microwaves, video games, cell phones, radios, stereos, VCRs, and electronic toys
- Household chemicals such as cleaning products
- Paint and paint-related substances (solvents)
- Automotive products such as oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid, oil filters
- Pool chemicals
- Garden chemicals including fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides
- Car batteries and household batteries (A, AA, AAA, nickel cadmium, alkaline, lithium)
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- Aerosol cans
- Furniture polish
Illegal dumping carries a minimum fine of $5,000 per day per violation up to $100,000 per day per violation or imprisonment.3Section 25189.5 of California Health and Safety Code
Instead, you can find a hazardous waste disposal location near you.
Is it illegal to throw out batteries, lightbulbs, or electronics in the trash?
Yes, see above. Batteries, lightbulbs, electronics, and items containing mercury are considered “Universal waste,” and it is illegal to dispose of them in the regular trash. You can instead throw these out at many hardware stores or other locations.
7. Homes, Building & Development
Is it illegal to use a wood burning fireplace?
On certain “spare the air” or no-burn alert days with poor air quality, the local air quality management district may declare a temporary ban on burning wood or manufactured fire logs in fireplaces or outside fire pits. Generally there are exceptions for homes above a certain altitude, or for low income households. Gas burning fires are generally OK (except in cities where they are banned).
Also, some cities in California, such as Berkeley, ban the installment of new wood-burning fireplaces, whether in new or renovated homes. Existing wood fireplaces are “grandfathered” in.
What are the rules about sustainable buildings in California?
California has quite restrictive laws about buildings, particularly new development. There is the new “Green Building Code,” which requires certain efficiency standards for buildings.
In addition, every proposed new building or development must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Under this law, before large projects are approved to be built, they must determine whether there will be any impact to the environment. This impact is broadly defined, and includes things like destruction of any habitats, to any increase in traffic or noise. CEQA has prevented or significantly delayed many development projects throughout the state.
Do homeowners need to install solar panels on the roof?
As of January 2020, it is required for all new single family houses in California to have solar panels on the roof.
Can new homes in California still use natural gas?
Yes, except in some cities such as Berkeley.
Are products with microbeads illegal?
Yes, as of January 2020, it is illegal to sell products with plastic microbeads in California. These have been used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpastes, and have been found in waterways.4AB 888 (2015)
For other laws affecting animals, see our Guide to Animal Rights. For clean air, and clean water, see our Guide to Laws Affecting the Environment in the U.S.
How do I find out more information about air quality?
Your local Air Quality Management (AQM) district is responsible for air pollution and other air quality issues for your region.