SACRAMENT, Calif. Companies that sell shampoo, food and other products wrapped in plastic have a decade to reduce their use of the polluting material if they want their products to reach California store shelves.
Significant legislation passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday aims to significantly reduce single-use plastic packaging in the state and dramatically increase recycling rates for what remains. It sets the nation’s strictest requirements for the use of plastic packaging, and lawmakers say they hope it will set a precedent for other states to follow.
“We are ruining the planet and we have to change it,” Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg said before voting on the bill.
Under the bill, plastic producers would have to reduce plastics in single-use products by 10% by 2027, rising to 25% by 2032. That reduction in plastic packaging can be achieved through a combination of reducing the size of the pack, changing to a different material, or making the product easily reusable or refillable. Also by 2032, plastic would have to be recycled at a rate of 65%, a huge jump from current rates. It would not apply to plastic beverage bottles, which have their own recycling rules.
Efforts to limit plastic packaging have floundered in the Legislature for years, but the threat of a similar ballot measure brought before voters in November brought business groups to the bargaining table. The three main sponsors of the measure withdrew it from the ballot after the bill passed, although they expressed concern that the plastics industry would try to weaken the requirements.
States have passed bans on single-use plastic grocery bags, straws and other items, and soon plastic water bottles won’t be allowed in national parks. But the material is still ubiquitous, used in everything from laundry detergent and soap bottles to packaging for vegetables and deli meats. Most plastic products in the United States are not recycled, and millions of tons end up in landfills and in the world’s oceans. It harms wildlife and shows up in drinking water as microplastics.
Marine animals that live along the Pacific coast, from crabs to whales, are ingesting plastics that find their way into the ocean, said Amy Wolfram, senior manager for California ocean policy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She called the bill a “fantastic start” to address a major problem.
Plastic manufacturers would form their own industry group charged with developing a plan to meet the requirements, which would need approval from the state recycling department. They will be required to raise $500 million annually from growers for a fund to clean up plastic pollution. Maine, Oregon, and Colorado have similar producer responsibility systems.
It does not ban Styrofoam food containers, but would require that they be recycled at a rate of 30% by 2028, which some supporters say is a de facto ban because the material cannot be recycled. The ballot measure would have banned the material entirely. It would have given more power to the state recycling agency to enforce the rules rather than allowing the industry to organize itself.
Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat who led negotiations on the bill, said it represented an example of two often-at odds groups, environmentalists and industry, coming together to bring about positive change.
He called it a “strong and significant commitment that will put California at the forefront of addressing a major global issue.”
Although they withdrew their ballot initiative, proponents of the measure said they remain concerned the industry will try to water down the bill. The three sponsors of the initiative were Linda Escalante of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Sangiacomo, former director of the waste management company Recology; and Caryl Hart, a member of the California Coastal Commission.
Joshua Baca of the American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, said the bill unfairly limits the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic that can be used to meet the 25% reduction requirement and limits “remediation technologies.” new and innovative recycling”.
The bill bans the incineration and burning of plastic, but leaves open the possibility of some forms of so-called chemical recycling.
Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, said that while the California bill goes further than any other state when it comes to reducing plastic pollution, it still falls short. She said it will only result in a 10% reduction in overall packaging because producers may make products refillable or switch to other materials. She also said it relies too heavily on failed plastics recycling policies.
Plastic production is supposed to triple globally by 2050, he said.