SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Companies that sell shampoo, food and other plastic-wrapped products have a decade to reduce their use of polluting materials if they want their wares on California store shelves.
Major legislation passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday aims to dramatically reduce single-use plastic packaging in the state and dramatically increase recycling rates for what’s left. It sets the nation’s toughest requirements for using plastic packaging, with lawmakers saying they hope it sets a precedent for other states to follow.
“We’re ruining the planet and we have to change it,” Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, 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. This reduction in plastic packaging can be achieved by combining the reducing the size of packaging, switching to another material or making the product easily reusable or refillable. Also by 2032, plastic is expected to be recycled at a rate of 65%, a significant jump from current rates. This would not apply to plastic beverage bottles, which have their own recycling rules.
Efforts to limit plastic packaging have failed in the Legislative Assembly for years, but the threat of a similar ballot measure before voters in November has prompted business groups to come to the negotiating table. The measure’s three main supporters withdrew it from the ballot after the bill passed, despite fears the plastics industry was trying to water down the requirements.
States have banned grocery bags, straws and other single-use plastic items, and plastic water bottles will soon no longer be allowed in national parks. But the material is still ubiquitous, used in everything from laundry detergent and soap bottles to vegetable and deli packaging. Most plastic products in the United States are not recycled, with millions of tons ending up in landfills and the world’s oceans. It harms wildlife and appears in drinking water as microplastics.
Marine animals that live off the Pacific coast, from crabs to whales, are ingesting plastics that end up in the ocean, said Amy Wolfram, California ocean policy manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She called the bill a “fantastic start” to solving a major problem.
Plastic makers would form their own industry group to develop a plan to meet the requirements, which would require approval from the state recycling department. They will be required to raise $500 million a year from growers for a fund to clean up plastic pollution. Maine, Oregon and Colorado have similar producer responsibility systems.
It does not ban polystyrene food packaging, but would require it to 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 outright banned the material. This would have given more power to the national recycling agency to implement the rules rather than leaving the industry to organise.
Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat who led the 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 meaningful compromise that will put California at the forefront of solving a major global problem.”
Although they withdrew their ballot initiative, supporters of the measure said they remained concerned that the industry would try to water down the bill. The three funders of the initiative were Linda Escalante of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Sangiacomo, former boss of waste management company Recology; and Caryl Hart, member of the California Coastal Commission.
Joshua Baca of the American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, said the bill unfairly caps the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic that can be used to meet the 25% reduction requirement and limits “new innovative recycling technologies”.
The bill prohibits the incineration and combustion of plastic, but leaves the possibility for certain forms of so-called chemical recycling.
Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, said that while California’s bill goes further than any other state in reducing plastic pollution, it still falls short. She said this would only result in a reduction of about 10% in overall packaging, as producers can make refillable products or switch to other materials. She also said she relied too much on failing plastics recycling policies.
Plastic production is expected to triple globally by 2050, she said.