Coalition Seeking Changes to Plastic Recycling Bill

Legislation raising serious questions about California mandates on recycling numerous products containing plastics is advancing in both the California Senate and Assembly.

The California Chamber of Commerce has joined a broad coalition that is opposing unless amended both SB 54 (Allen; D-Santa Monica) and AB 1080 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego), titled the “California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.”

In their current form, both bills jeopardize in-state businesses with additional costs and provide the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) with open-ended authority to develop and impose costly new mandates with an unrealistic timeframe on California businesses manufacturing an incredibly broad swath of consumer products.

Coalition members represent manufacturers, small businesses, consumer product companies, food producers, agriculture, retailers and others.

The CalChamber and coalition members agree that more can and should be done to reduce the amount of plastic material that is disposed of in landfills or that makes its way into our creeks, rivers and oceans.

Both the CalChamber and coalition look forward to working with the authors to address these issues with the hope that the final work product will result in a packaging policy that is both environmentally responsible and economically sustainable.

Policy Challenges

Recent policy actions imposed by China and other Asian countries are creating new challenges—but also opportunities—in how plastics and other commodities are recycled and managed domestically.

Collectively, companies have set ambitious sustainability targets and are taking steps to utilize recyclable packaging, increase recycling rates, and incorporate recycled material in the production of new packaging.

In addition, many in the plastics and consumer products industry have announced commitments of $1.5 billion to end plastic waste in the environment through new packaging formats, more efficient recycling technologies, and new business models to create value in used plastic.

Issues with Bills

Both bills raise serious questions, use terms that are unclear and vague, establish implementation timelines that are not practical, and provide CalRecycle with open-ended authority to impose new mandates on businesses operating in the state.

As pointed out in letters to the legislative policy committees:

• The scope of products affected is unclear due to undefined terms in the bills.

• Unfettered authority is granted to CalRecycle when clear guidelines and oversight by the Legislature is needed.

• Practical timelines are necessary. Both bills require CalRecycle to develop an initial scoping plan by January 1, 2021 and manufacturers to meet a 20% recycling rate by January 1, 2022. Data collection, recycling rate calculation, expanding existing collection infrastructure and developing new markets for collected material will take significant time.

• The requirement to “source reduce” single-use packaging and products is unclear and leaves open the question of how responsible entities may comply. The bills should recognize companies’ source reduction efforts over the years and acknowledge that simply using “less” packaging may not be technically feasible and may conflict with state and federal law.

Key Questions

To ensure the policy achieves the desired objective, key questions the Legislature should assess before finalizing any policy around packaging include:

• Will this legislation actually reduce waste or rather simply result in replacing one type of trash with another?

• What are the environmental impacts associated with the manufacture, distribution, use and disposal of likely alternative replacement products?

• Are likely replacement products recycled or composted within the state’s existing infrastructure and do viable, end use markets exist for these products?

Important Considerations

Existing law. The new law also should take into account the existing Rigid Plastic Packaging Container law, recognize companies that have met their compliance obligation and ensure that new requirements are not duplicative and/or overly burdensome on consumer product companies that are in compliance.

Uniform statewide solution. Some industry sectors are attempting to navigate a patchwork of local ordinances pertaining to food service packaging. Any comprehensive packaging policy adopted by the Legislature should include preemption of local ordinances.

Stakeholder involvement. What is being proposed under SB 54 and AB 1080 is a major undertaking and will likely have profound impacts on packaging design and use, and on the consumer product companies that rely on packaging to deliver products to markets.

CalRecycle does not have the expertise in packaging design or in the manufacture or distribution of any consumer products. If this legislation is to be successful, it will require the implementing regulations to be, at a minimum, both practical and technologically feasible. Engagement by industry experts will be essential to achieve this goal.

Key Votes

SB 54 passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on March 20, 5-0:

Ayes: Allen (D-Santa Monica), Hill (D-San Mateo), Skinner (D-Berkeley), Stern (D-Canoga Park), Wieckowski (D-Fremont).

No votes recorded: Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), J. Stone (R-Riverside County).

AB 1080 passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on March 25, 8-3:

Ayes: Chau (D-Monterey Park), Eggman (D-Stockton), Friedman (D-Glendale), C. Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Limón (D-Santa Barbara), McCarty (D-Sacramento), Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), M. Stone (D-Scotts Valley).

Noes: Flora (R-Ripon), Mathis (R-Visalia), Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore).

Both bills will be considered next by the fiscal committee in their respective houses.

Staff Contact: Adam Regele

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Adam Regele was named vice president of advocacy and strategic partnerships in March 2023. He joined the CalChamber in April 2018 as a policy advocate specializing in environmental policy, housing and land use, and product regulation issues. He was named a senior policy advocate in April 2021 in recognition of his efforts on behalf of members. Regele came to CalChamber after practicing law at Oakland-based Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, PLC, where he advised private and public clients on complex projects involving land use and environmental laws and regulations at the local, state and federal levels. Before entering private practice, Regele served as a federal judicial law clerk to the Honorable Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. Regele earned a B.S. in environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of Law, where he was symposium editor and research and development editor for the Hastings West-Northwest Journal. See full bio