BOSTON — California has become the fourth state in the nation to enact a packaging EPR law, which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. After more than three years of negotiations and the threat of a ballot initiative taxing plastic pollution, California stakeholders successfully negotiated SB54, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, which was sponsored by Senator Ben Allen. The law covers single-use packaging and food serviceware and includes enforceable recycling targets that will increase over time, reaching 65% by 2032. 

In keeping with Product Stewardship Institute’s packaging EPR model legislation, which was drafted in 2018 and informed similar legislation this year in Colorado and last year in Maine and Oregon, California’s law will create a producer responsibility organization (PRO) to manage the program, with government oversight.  

The law also includes specific targets for source reduction, which producers can meet by establishing reuse or refill systems or eliminating single-use packaging and serviceware, and bans expanded polystyrene food serviceware unless it can demonstrate increasingly high recycling rates: from 25% by 2025 to 65% by 2032. It also includes parameters for eco-modulated fees to incentivize the use of more sustainable, recyclable or compostable, renewable, and non-toxic materials.  

On the topic of “chemical recycling,” the law leaves open the possibility for advanced plastics-to-plastics technologies but does not allow combustion, incineration, waste-to-energy or waste-to-fuel production (except for anaerobic digestion) to count as “recycling.” Under the law, CalRecycle will adopt regulations to verify that packaging intended for export meets processing and contamination standards and can prohibit any technologies that produce “significant amounts of hazardous waste.” 

The law also requires producers to pay $500 million per year for 10 years, beginning in 2027, into a new California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund, which will be managed by the state to restore the environment and mitigate past, present and future environmental justice and public health impacts created by the manufacturing, litter or disposal of plastic packaging. Like all packaging EPR laws, producers will be required to internalize the costs of the program and will not be permitted to pass their EPR fees on to consumers as a separate item on receipts or invoices.

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