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California's New EPR-Style Law Will Phase Out Single-Use Plastics

by Rudy Sanchez on 07/05/2022 | 2 Minute Read

Addressing the growing plastic pollution crisis, California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed SB 54, a new law that places the financial and collection responsibility on plastic and packaging producers.

The passing and signing of SB 54 are the result of negotiations between lawmakers and the plastic industry killing a ballot initiative requiring all single-use plastic packaging and food ware to be recyclable, refillable, reusable, or compostable by 2032, as well as a 25% reduction in all single-use plastic production.

California based its new plastic regulatory framework on the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP). The industry will be tasked with managing the collection and recycling of plastic and giving CalRecycle total oversight. The plastic sector will also be responsible for financing the administration and management of the program and is subject to auditing. Recycling rates can also be increased in response to more plastic landing in waste streams.

In addition to shifting responsibility on plastic producers, the new legislation sets targets for recycling rates. SB 54 excludes not-recycling shenanigans like combustion, incineration, or fuel production from counting towards compliance. By 2028, at least 30% of plastic in the Golden State must be recycled, increasing to 40% by 2030 and up to 65% by 2032. Polystyrene food ware must meet a 25% recycling rate by 2025 to avoid a statewide ban, with the target increasing to 30% by 2028, 50% by 2030, and 65% by 2032 and every subsequent year.

Penalties for non-compliance include daily fines of up to $50,000.

“Our kids deserve a future free of plastic waste and its dangerous impacts, everything from clogging our oceans to killing animals—contaminating the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. California won’t tolerate plastic waste filling our waterways and making breathing harder. We’re holding polluters responsible and cutting plastics at the source,” Newsom said in a press release.

Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), issued a statement expressing concern with SB 54. Baca cites the strict definition of recycling that excludes “new, innovative technologies” that keeps plastic out of the environment and landfills and the 8% cap on post-consumer recycled material counting towards the new recycling targets.

California becomes the fourth US state to enact EPR-type legislation, following on the heels of Colorado’s new legislation, which takes effect in August.

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