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California Packaging Regulations

Also see US Packaging Regulations

The state of California has several strict guidelines for the packaging industry to preserve consumer safety and environmental sustainability. Among the lengthy list of regulations, key among them are in the areas of rigid plastics and toxics prevention.

Rigid Plastics

The state of California has a long-standing law, entitled the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law, which was enacted to help cut down on the amount of plastics thrown into California’s landfills.  This law defines rigid plastics and their composition.  Under this law, a rigid plastic container is an inflexible plastic packaging container which can hold at least 8 fluid ounces without compromising its shape.  Such containers may be anything from bottles to cartons and more which are sold and distributed in California.

Container Requirements

Each container must meet additional requirements prior to being distributed in California.  In this regard, each plastic container must meet at least 1 of the following 5 criteria:

  1. The container must be made from a minimum of 25% recycled materials.
  2. The container must be reusable
  3. The container must be source-reduced (container weight reduced by 10%)
  4. The container must contain floral preservatives and later be used in the floral business.
  5. The container must have a 45% recycling rate at minimum.


To ensure that all standards are upheld, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery carefully monitors the manufacture and distribution of plastic containers in the state.  In keeping with this, product manufacturers using plastic packaging must certify that their containers meet state mandated regulations.  Some of the required information includes:

  • Certifications from container manufacturers.
  • Product manufacturer’s certifications and container manufacturer’s certifications must be sent via mail or electronically by April 1 of the calendar year.
  • If an extension is needed, a product manufacturer may apply for one if they can demonstrate just cause in the form of evidence like corporate reorganization or difficulty getting container information.

Waivers & Exemptions

The packaging industry is not always black and white.  Therefore, in a limited number of situations, plastics manufacturers and distributors may be exempt from the stringent rules of the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law.  Various instances include:


  • May be obtained when it is infeasible to use 25% recycled material in plastic containers.
  • May be obtained if a container can’t comply with postconsumer content regulations and FDA regulations at the same time.
  • May be obtained if 50% of the manufacturer’s containers that were sold in-state met the 25% recycled material requirement by January 1, 1995 and all containers were up to code by January 1, 1996.


  • May be obtained when containers are destined for a location outside of California.
  • May be obtained when containers will be used to hold medical products, cosmetics or food.
  • May be obtained when containers will hold hazardous materials.
  • May be obtained when containers holding hazardous materials are prohibited from being manufactured with recycled materials.

Whatever the case, both exemptions and waivers must be filed in writing via certified mail to the Department of Resources.  Applicants must describe the rigid plastic containers that the request is for, as well as contact information if the Department wishes to discuss the matter in more depth.

Toxics Prevention

In addition to regulation plastics, California keeps a watchful eye on the overall safety of packaging.  One law, known as the Toxics in Packaging Prevention Act aims to eliminate the use of harmful metals in product packaging and to therefore prevent such materials from leaching into soil in California’s landfills.  Under this law, the use of mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium in packaging is severely limited, permitted to be present in packaging materials in quantities of 100 parts per million or less. Contrary to the plastics law, the limiting of harmful metals applies to containers made of any material in California.

Items Affected

The Toxics Act points to several particular materials commonly affected.  Whether a container is made primarily of metal or some other material, several items do indeed contain traces of metal and are therefore affected. A few of these include:

  • Recycled materials used to produce new containers
  • Cardboard boxes which ship computers
  • Plastic clamshell packaging and plastic wrapping designed to hold produce and other food


No waivers or exemptions currently apply to this law, however, much like the aforementioned plastics law, packaging manufacturers must verify in writing that packaging meets the regulations.  All verification in such matters is handled by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. With this in mind, it is important to note the following:

  • The Department may conduct periodic inspections and records reviews to verify manufacturer compliance.
  • The public is permitted to contact the department regarding suspected violations.
  • Civil penalties for noncompliance may be imposed on container manufacturers and producers.

Without question, the state of California places product and environmental safety in the foreground when it comes to packaging.  While these incredibly involved regulations may seem exhausting, they do serve a larger purpose.  California wants to promote both safe manufacturing and environmental sustainability.