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Environmental Edge
May 12, 2021

California Takes the Lead on Plastic Waste Reduction

Environmental Edge: Climate Change & Regulatory Insights

On March 9, 2021, a group of almost a dozen plastic-waste-related bills were introduced in the California legislature. This bundle follows a familiar playbook, where California’s laws are likely to either become a model for other states or simply function as de-facto nationwide requirements. It incorporates legislation relating to labeling, waste reduction and recycling. These bills propose varying enforcement mechanisms, some of which could add up to steep penalties if they are adopted as currently drafted.

Arnold & Porter is monitoring all of these bills as they progress through the legislature, and their potential impact on industry, retailers and other stakeholders.

Labeling. SB 343 would prohibit the use of the commonly recognized “three arrows” recycling symbol on non-recyclable products. Another labeling proposal, AB 818, would require pre-moistened non-woven disposable wipes to be labeled with the phrase “do not flush” and prohibit these products from making claims that they are flushable. Finally, AB 1201 would ban the sale of plastic products that are labeled “compostable” unless they meet degradability specifications.

Waste Reduction. The collection includes several laws relating to plastics waste. The first of these is SB 54, the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, which would require all single use disposable packaging to be recyclable or compostable by January 2032. Similarly, AB 1272 aims to reduce plastics waste by expanding on the existing law that prohibits restaurants from providing straws unless a customer requests them. The bill would only allow restaurants and delivery services to provide single-use items if they are requested, and would require reusable items for on-site dining. There are two bills focused on reducing contamination from “microfibers.” AB 802 would require state agencies and commercial and industrial facilities to adopt the best available technology for microfiber filtration. AB 622 would require all new washing machines sold in California to include a microfiber filtration device beginning in 2024. Perhaps the most onerous of the proposed laws is AB 1371. If passed, this would prohibit online retailers from using single-use plastic packaging to package or transport products. It will also require any online retailer that has at least one physical location in the state with in-person sales to provide a take-back container for packaging, while retailers that provide lockers for secure pickup would have to provide a collection bin near the lockers. Retailers that deliver products would have to offer an at-delivery recycling program, allowing customers to return packaging from prior deliveries when a new item is delivered.

Recycling. Finally, the group contains four bills relating to recycling. AB 649 would require state agencies to meet the same minimum content standards for procurement already imposed on private industry. AB 881 would change current law to no longer permit the export of mixed plastic waste to constitute diversion through recycling unless it is both destined for separate recycling of each material contained in the mix and its export is fully in compliance with all applicable laws in its destination country. AB962 would allow refillable bottles to be washed and re-filled rather than crushed and recycled. Finally, AB 478 would set minimum recycled content requirements for certain plastic food containers, such as the boxes commonly used for berries. It would phase in over the next twenty years, initially requiring these boxes to be 10% recycled, increasing to 30% in 2030.

© Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP 2021 All Rights Reserved. This blog post is intended to be a general summary of the law and does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with counsel to determine applicable legal requirements in a specific fact situation.