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California lawmakers pass recyclability labeling bill

SB 343 aims to ensure claims of recyclability on products and packaging are truthful and accurate.

September 11, 2021

California lawmakers in the state Senate have passed SB 343, a recyclability labeling bill that aims to ensure claims related to the recyclability of a product or packaging are truthful. The bill heads to California Gov. Gavin Newsom for final approval and must be signed into law by Oct. 10.

The bill states that it would require the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) on or before Jan. 1, 2024, to provide information to the public to evaluate whether a product or packaging is recyclable in the state and is of material types and forms that routinely become feedstock used in the production of new products and packaging. CalRecycle would also be required to update specified regulations to require disposal facility operators to provide information to the department regarding how material processed by the operations and facilities was collected and what material types and forms are actively recovered and not considered contaminants by the operation or facility. Additionally, the bill would require CalRecycle to conduct, publish and update a characterization study of material types and forms that are collected, sorted, sold or transferred by solid waste facilities identified by the department for inclusion in the study.

According to the bill, a product or packaging type would be considered recyclable in California if, based on information published by CalRecycle, the product or packaging is of a material type and form collected for recycling for jurisdictions that collectively encompass at least 60 percent of the state.

The bill states, “Under existing law, it is unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive or misleading environmental marketing claim, whether explicit or implied. A violation of this requirement is a misdemeanor. The bill would prohibit a person from offering for sale, selling, distributing or importing into the state any product or packaging for which a deceptive or misleading claim about the recyclability of the product or packaging is made. The bill would provide that a product or packaging that displays a chasing arrows symbol, among other symbols, statements or directions, except as specified, is deemed to be a deceptive or misleading claim unless the product or packaging is considered recyclable pursuant to statewide recyclability criteria and is of a material type and form that routinely becomes feedstock used in the production of new products or packaging as provided.”

Some plastics and packaging industry groups have voiced their opposition to SB 343.

“SB 343 puts more plastic in landfills, not less,” says Matt Seaholm, vice president of government affairs at the Plastics Industry Association. “A number of common plastic products like yogurt cups and microwavable trays would be deemed unrecyclable and, therefore, would be landfilled. 4.5 million tons of polypropylene would now be landfilled as a result of this legislation. All of these products and many more are not only recyclable but are currently recycled in California. We urge the governor to veto this misguided legislation and work with all stakeholders on commonsense solutions to reduce plastic waste, such as increasing investment in recycling infrastructure.”

According to a report from the New York Times Sept. 8, several other plastics and packaging industry groups oppose the bill, saying it creates confusion for consumers. The New York Times reports that a memo was circulated among California lawmakers urging them to oppose the bill unless it is amended. That letter was signed by groups including the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association and American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN). Dan Felton, AMERIPEN’s executive director, told the New York Times the bill could have “unintended consequences of sending more packaging material to landfills.”

The Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) says it also thinks SB 343 would adversely affect the recycling industry. “The bill’s definition—and thus its criteria—for considering materials as ‘recyclable’ completely misses the mark,” says Adina Renee Adler, vice president of advocacy at ISRI. “Recyclability depends first and foremost on the existence of end-use markets. Without market demand, you are left with an increased supply of well-sorted trash.”