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Single-use propane canisters

California Set to Ban Single-Use Propane Canisters for Camping

Published on December 31st, 2022
Updated on March 2nd, 2024

California leads the US in setting environmental standards to lessen negative impacts on humans and wildlife. The latest entry into the state’s ledgers is a bill passed in August of 2022 that will ban sales of all single-use propane canisters hikers and campers rely on for cooking, illumination, and warmth.

The propane canister ban goes into effect in 2028, but how will this law impact camping enthusiasts, and what alternatives are available?

Let’s look into the details of this single-use propane canister bill and how you can prepare when planning your next trip to any of the thousands of camping locations across California.

The California Single-Use Propane Canister Bill

Propane canisters
Refillable propane tanks (above)

The California Assembly SB 1256 Bill will ban the sale of all single-use propane (LP) canisters by 2028. Single-use cylinders have a DOT-39 label and are not refillable, unlike larger propane tanks that hold five pounds or more.

Single-use propane tanks are affordable, compact, and durable one-pound propane cylinders that are easy to pack on camping trips or use at home or locally at parks or beaches to run various LP-fueled appliances like grills, heaters, or lights. The dark-green tanks typically screw into a fitting that safely dispenses the propane into the equipment.

The ban on single-use LP canisters in California is the first in the US. Still, other states may soon present similar bills to their state assemblies, impacting the entire camping industry and forcing alternatives for this convenient fuel option.

Penalties for Violating SB 1256

Once the single-use propane canister ban goes into effect in 2028, anyone caught violating the bill will receive a first-offense fine of $500 per day. Secondary violations will incur a $1,000 daily penalty, and any subsequent offenses will be $2,000 daily.

The Negative Impact of Single-Use Propane Cylinders

A single use propane cylinder

There are many reasons California and other states want to ban one-pound, non-refillable propane tanks.

The first is that the canisters contribute heavily to the litter found in campgrounds, parks, and beaches, which ruins the area’s beauty and can harm wildlife or people.

A secondary issue is that processing single-use LP tanks is costly for municipalities, requiring millions of dollars for safety equipment to puncture and empty propane from the tanks before adding them to the waste stream.

Lastly, handling the explosive and volatile tanks presents a safety hazard when the cylinders become part of landfills or waste incinerator systems.

With California selling around four million single-use propane cylinders every year, it’s easy to see why ending up in the trash instead of being able to reuse the cans is problematic.

California has some recyclers who gather around one million of the tanks, ensure they are empty of propane, and sell the steel tank material for processing into other products. However, most cylinders are carelessly tossed into waste bins across the state whether they still have propane inside or not.

Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) is part of the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee. He states that there is plenty of time for the propane and camping industry to develop alternatives to the throw-away one-pound LP tanks and switch to a refillable option as found on larger tanks.

Please note that the California bill exempts single-use isobutane canisters that are popular for use with many types of camping and backpacking cooking kits.

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Alternatives to Single-Use Propane Canisters

Refillable One-Pound Propane Canister

There are refillable one-pound propane canisters on the market, such as the Flame King tank that you buy empty and then take to a propane dispensary for filling. Unfortunately, the tanks sell for $20, which can put a dent in your budget when transitioning away from single-use tanks.

The downside of this option is that you’ll need to purchase, fill, and pack enough tanks to sustain your needs for the length of your trip if you’re camping far from a propane refill station.

While this option isn’t as convenient as buying a pre-filled, throw-away LP tank, it is much more environmentally friendly and, over time, will save you money by only paying for propane refills.

Little Kamper Refillable Propane Cylinders

Single use LP tanks

Single-use LP tanks were causing such a hardship for staff at Yosemite National Park that they quit selling them at camp stores. The alternative for guests looking to fuel their camping equipment is the Little Kamper refillable tanks available across California.

The Little Kamper cylinders are different because they are part of an exchange system, much like the 20-pound propane tanks you see at hardware, grocery, and home improvement stores.

Once you purchase the refillable tank, you only need to visit the nearest exchange kiosk to switch an empty tank for a full one. There’s more cost involved in the Little Kamper one-pound propane tanks, with the initial purchase price around $25 and each exchange about $11.

Become a Basementeer

If you live in the Bay Area of California, you can visit a Sports Basement location and join their Basementeer program. Members who buy a small refillable LP tank from their store get the perk of FREE refills for the tank’s life.

There is a $25 donation to a local charity to become a member, but once you’re in, you can purchase one of their refillable cylinders for an additional $20 and enjoy no-cost propane refills.

The company is expanding to other areas within California and is trying to be more eco-conscious with this program. However, it also knows that customers coming in to exchange empty tanks will likely purchase other store items during their visit.

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NOTE: All refillable one-pound propane canisters are regulated like larger tanks, with the same 12-year lifespan before needing replacement or recertification. Propane fills are available at LP service centers, and many campgrounds, but some facilities may still need the adapters or equipment necessary to fill such a small canister.

Upgrade to a Five-Pound Propane Canister

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  • Pre-purged cylinder – ready to be filled

A five-pound propane tank weighs about ten pounds when empty, and the total weight when full is approximately 28-30 pounds. While heavier and bulkier to transport, it is possible to bring along when camping.

A five-pound LP tank can last up to a week for cooking campsite meals, and with an adapter and hose, you can connect it to your existing propane-run equipment to eliminate the extra expense of purchasing new gear.

Switch to Butane Camping Gear

You can purchase all the necessary outdoor equipment for cooking, light, or warmth that uses small butane canisters for fuel instead of propane. The California ban does not regulate butane or isobutane fuel canisters.

The benefits of butane include being less expensive than propane and creating about 12 percent more energy than propane, so the same volume of fuel will last longer when burning at temperatures above freezing.

The downside of butane is that it cannot form a gas when the temperature falls below 32°F, rendering it useless when camping in frigid regions. Butane is also not as widely available as propane, so it will require more planning to keep your stock full.

Go Electric

Tips for RV camping on 30-Amps

You can use a rechargeable portable power station, like the products from Jackery, to run many camping accessories if you want to eliminate burning propane. For example, space heaters, lights, and portable camping grills will efficiently run if you own the correct size power station to handle the load.

Charge up the station before your trip when boondocking, or plug your camping gear into shore power when available.

In Summary

California banning single-use propane canisters will reduce dangers to people and the environment, save cities millions of dollars, and keep campgrounds and parks cleaner.

If you love to camp or like the convenience of propane-run portable grills or heaters, now is the time to transition to refillable one-pound propane canisters or to consider switching to a larger tank.

The California single-use propane canister bill SB 1256 will be in full effect on January 1, 2028. It’s easy to have a positive impact when camping or enjoying the outdoors when you stop buying wasteful one-time small LP tanks and get your refillable LP canisters now.

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