Plastic Waste

Plastics, including Polystyrene, damage Lake Tahoe’s sensitive natural habitats and scenic beauty. These materials are not biodegradable, nearly impossible to recycle, and persist for many years in the environment by disintegrating into smaller plastic particles. In October, 2022, the City Council responded to these challenges by updating its ordinance in order to minimize the potential for this waste entering our local ecosystem. 


The 2022 amendment to the ordinance mentioned above included a ban on single-use plastic water bottles of less than one gallon from being sold within city limits, with an exemption for emergencies. 

--The ban goes into effect for city facilities and city-affiliated events, city concessionaires, lessees, licensees, and permittees on April 22, 2023.

--A citywide ban goes into effect for all commercial vendors on April 22, 2024. The ordinance defines "single-use plastic water bottle" as a single-use plastic container of less than one gallon containing non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water. 

See resources available from the Drink Tahoe Tap© campaign and the Tahoe Environmental Research Center

While alternatives to single-use plastic are available and do not violate the ordinance, the City encourages refilling reusable water bottles with our award-winning local tap water. For more information about the Plastic Water Bottle Ban, please reach out to Sara Letton at

The full text of the ordinance can be found here: Polystyrene and Plastic Food Packaging Ordinance

WHAT TO KNOW for Restaurants and other Food Providers

Single-use plastic containers and related foodservice ware items may be provided to customers only upon request:

Since 2018, single-use plastic foodservice ware items that may only be provided upon request are: cups, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, clamshell containers, cup lids, utensils (forks, knives, spoons, and sporks), chopsticks, straws, and stirrers.

As of Jan. 1, 2023, plastic condiment cups and packets were added to the list above, and may be provided to customers only upon request.

Food may not be served or provided in polystyrene containers.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2023, there are no more exceptions for polystyrene raw meat, fish, and food trays or for food prepared or packaged outside of South Lake Tahoe in polystyrene containers.

Acceptable alternative products include uncoated paper, coated paper, cardboard, aluminum foil, and compostable or "bio-products". Please be aware that foodservice ware products labeled "compostable" are not actually accepted in the composting facility that serves South Lake Tahoe. Only food waste is accepted in the commercial compost stream. Green/yard waste is collected residentially and at the facility for composting, and is kept separate from food waste. Please note that recycling and composting regulations differ from community to community across California

WHAT TO KNOW for Grocery Stores and other Retailers

Sale of polystyrene products is prohibited, except for products wholly encased in durable material, such as paddleboards and life preservers.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2023, there are no more exceptions for polystyrene raw meat, fish, and food trays or for food prepared or packaged outside of South Lake Tahoe in polystyrene containers.

 The City has partnered with the League to Save Lake Tahoe in performing direct outreach to businesses to inform them of the updated ordinance. Outreach will begin in fall 2022 and continue in 2023. Email us at with questions.

Full text of the Ordinance Amending Chapter 4.175 (Polystyrene and Plastic Food Packaging Regulations) of the South Lake Tahoe City Code to Establish Municipal Use and Commercial Ban on Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles


In 2015, City Council passed a resolution establishing an ordinance banning plastic single-use carryout bags. In 2021, the Council repealed its single-use plastic bag regulations to instead follow state law adopted in 2016, which is applicable to more types of establishments (Public Resources Code 42280-42288). This law prohibits most grocery stores, large retail stores with a pharmacy, and convenience stores that sell food and alcoholic beverages from providing their customers with bags designed for a single use only, unless those bags are made with recycled paper. These stores may provide customers with certified reusable grocery bags and must charge at least 10 cents for each reusable plastic or recycled paper bag.