California’s proposed legislation, companion bills AB 1080 and SB 54, is a first-in-the-nation attempt at requiring plastic manufacturers to take responsibility for the fate of their single-use products, many of which end up in landfills and oceans. The rules could have dramatic implications for the plastic industry. If the legislation passes as written, companies would need to ensure that their products are recyclable or else face having them potentially banned.
The bill is being fiercely opposed by industry groups, which see a threat to their bottom line. The industry is arguing that complying with the legislation would be unfeasible and end up as an added cost to consumers. The proposed rules set a deadline of 2030 for several new requirements on manufacturers. First, all of California’s plastic forks, bowls and other utensils that are routinely used once and discarded must be recyclable or compostable; companies must reduce waste from plastic packaging by 75%; and single-use products made from unrecyclable material will be banned.
With recycling centers closing across the state and China no longer accepting soiled plastic from the U.S., the bill signals a growing recognition from lawmakers that California faces a recycling crisis and pervasive plastic pollution. The Legislature is also considering another plastics bill, AB 792, that would establish a minimum recycled content level in plastic bottles.
Julia Stein, a supervising attorney with UCLA’s environmental law clinic, said AB 1080 and SB 54 are attempts to comprehensively address plastic pollution, and that industry groups are concerned California could be a bellwether. “That’s what is spurring the industry opposition to this bill,” Stein said. Business lobbying has already resulted in changes. Two of the bills’ authors, Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, released amendments last week meant to appease critics and reluctant lawmakers who worried the state’s recycling infrastructure could not support the additional materials resulting from the new rules, and who were concerned about a shortage of food-safe plastic.
Originally, the bill automatically banned a product if a company couldn’t show that the material met the recycling requirements. Now, CalRecycle, the state agency that will administer the new rules, must initiate a review process before a product is disallowed. The agency can also issue a penalty of up to $50,000 per day, but can give a company as long as two years to meet the regulations.