How new California packaging EPR law is ‘putting the industry on notice’

Packaging

by Marissa Heffernan, Resource Recycling,  July 6, 2022

Industry leaders mostly expressed support for California’s recently signed extended producer responsibility bill, though some said they still had concerns about its far reach.

After three years of trying to pass different versions of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) bill, Senate Bill 54 was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 30. The new law creates a producer responsibility organization (PRO) to run a collection and recycling program, with state oversight, for printed paper and packaging. 

The bill passed the Assembly on June 29 on a vote of 67-2 and the Senate on June 30 on a vote of 29-0, following last-minute amendments and a compromise between industry groups and environmentalists. 

As part of the agreement, environmentalists removed the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act ballot measure from the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure, originally submitted in November 2019, would have addressed plastic pollution with a plastic tax paid by manufacturers. 

Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste, said after briefly switching its support to the ballot measure, in the end his organization supported the final version of SB 54. 

“The amendments that the Assembly took really addressed most of our concerns,” he told Resource Recycling. “They put in significant backstops to make sure that we’re not just putting all of our eggs in the basket of an industry-run PRO.” 

Those backstops include more state regulatory power, an explicit prohibition on waste-to-energy processes, oversight of what gets shipped out of the state and stronger language on polystyrene. 

Sen. Ben Allen, one of the authors of the bill, said, “California was able to show that we can pass strong environmental legislation with bipartisan support.” He thanked the ballot measure proponents “who helped to force this issue.” 

The final version

The signed version of SB 54, the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, mandates a 25% reduction of single-use plastic packaging and foodservice products by 2032, with nearly half of that reduction coming from the direct elimination of plastic packaging or switching to reuse and refill systems, instead of switching to another single-use material. 

Further, the bill requires that all single-use packaging and foodware, including non-plastic items, be recyclable or compostable by 2032 and mandates a 65% recycling rate for plastics by that same year.

It also calls for a needs assessment, paid for by the PRO but overseen by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), and eco-modulated fees designed to incentivize producers to use sustainable, recyclable or reusable materials. More

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