On Jan. 1, 2018, the policy known as the “national sword” went into effect, which raised the standard of how “pure” a bale of plastic must be to the point where the US and other countries, for the most part, could no longer comply, and China effectively closed its doors to the world’s trash.
This hit California very hard. The state was sending fully two-thirds of its recyclable materials to China. “This shift in China’s policy has resulted in the loss of markets for low-value plastic packaging that was previously considered recyclable. That material is now being landfilled or burned,” reads California Assembly Bill 1080, which was introduced into California’s legislature in February. With no market for recycled plastic, even recyclers are forced to landfill or incinerate what they collect. Bottle deposit centers, where Californians could redeem a soda bottle in exchange for five cents, are closing throughout the state.
Now that bill, along with two others, are poised to dramatically reimagine California’s relationship to plastic, mostly by trying to prevent industries from producing new, virgin plastic in the first place. Right now, the US produces 335 million tons of new plastic each year. If passed, the bills would ban the production or sale of any non-recyclable single-use packaging containers in the state by 2030. They would also require California to either recycle 75% of all single-use plastic packaging and products sold or distributed in California, or otherwise find a way for them not to end up in landfills. That would mean almost doubling the state’s current rate. Right now, just 44% of waste is diverted from landfills, according to the Los Angeles Times.
One of the three bills, AB 792, would also require all drink containers to be made of at least 75% recycled plastic by 2035. The bills are close to landing on the governor’s desk for final passage—but they have only until Friday, Sept. 13, when California’s legislative year ends, to be passed or die on the vine.