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California Requires Plastics Makers to Foot the Bill for Recycling

In one of the most ambitious efforts statewide to reduce reliance on plastic, California has introduced a new requirement that packaging makers pay for recycling and reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging.

The law, signed by the governor of California on Thursday, is the fourth of its kind to be passed by a state, though experts say it’s the most important as it goes further by requiring manufacturers to both make less plastic and save it. Ensure that all single-use products are recyclable or compostable. Last summer, Maine and Oregon passed the country’s first such requirements, called producer responsibility laws.

An important premise of the laws: the costs of recycling infrastructure, recycling plants and collection and sorting facilities will be shifted to packaging manufacturers and away from the taxpayers, who are currently footing the bill.

California law requires all single-use packaging, including paper and metals, to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. However, this is most important when it comes to plastic products, which are technologically more difficult to recycle. In addition, it is more difficult for people to figure out which plastics are recyclable and which are not.

Unlike other states, California will demand a 25 percent reduction on all plastic packaging sold in the state for a wide variety of items, be it shampoo bottles, plastic utensils, bubble wrap, or takeout cups.

“We know that to solve our plastic pollution crisis, we need to make less plastic and reuse more of the plastic we have,” said Anja Brandon, a policy analyst at Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization, and a contributor to the text of the bill. “This is the first bill in the country to address both issues.”

Recycling is important for environmental reasons and in the fight against climate change. There is concern that the growing global market for plastics made from fossil fuels could support oil demand and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the world needs to phase out fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts. to prevent global warming. By 2050, the plastics industry is expected to consume 20 per cent of all oil produced.

According to an estimate by her team at the Ocean Conservancy, Ms. Brandon said the new California law would eliminate 23 million tons of plastic over the next 10 years.

Under state law, manufacturers would pay for recycling programs and be charged based on package weight, ease of recycling, and whether products contain toxic substances such as PFAS, a type of virtually indestructible chemicals associated with to an increased risk of some cancers.

It follows other efforts in California to improve recycling. Last September, California became the first state to ban businesses from using the “chasing arrows” symbol — the common symbol, three arrows forming a circle, often thought to mean something recyclable, although that’s not necessarily the case. case — unless they could prove that the material is, in fact, recyclable in most California communities.

In addition, the law requires plastic manufacturers to contribute $5 billion over the next 10 years to a fund that would reduce the effects of plastic pollution on the environment and human health, especially in low-income communities.

“For far too long, plastic waste has been a growing burden on people, animals and the water, soil and air we need to exist,” said Ben Allen, a Democratic state senator and author of the bill. , in a statement. †

California has the largest economy of all states and is also a major global economy. Due to its size, and given the increasing national and global nature of supply chains, recycling analysts say the law could affect packaging used across the country. “Manufacturers don’t make packaging for a single state,” said Dylan de Thomas, head of the policy team at The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit focused on improving recycling systems. “They will also make packaging recyclable elsewhere and you will get a stronger recycling system.”

Those following the bill have been buoyed by the comparative backing of industry groups, which have opposed producer responsibility laws in the past. In a statement, the American Chemistry Council described the law as “not perfect” but said it would work to eliminate plastic waste.

In recent years, a dozen states have introduced producer responsibility laws for plastic packaging. And a growing number of states and cities have banned single-use plastic bags or plastic foam products. California law avoids outright bans, at least initially. Products like polystyrene run the risk of being banned only if they don’t meet certain recycling rates in the state.

Recycling advocates said they hoped the law would lead to potential innovations, such as refill stations for products such as detergents or beverages. “We hope that growers will have to take a step back and think, ‘Should we wrap our cucumbers in two to three layers of film?'” says Ms. Brandon.

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