California lawmakers have adopted what would be the world's toughest requirements for recycled content in plastic beverage bottles, requiring them to reach 50 percent by 2030.
The Association of Plastic Recyclers called it a "key moment" and predicted California's action would lead to other states adopting similar legislation.
The bill in Sacramento, if signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would put California ahead of the European Union and its requirement for 30 percent recycled content by 2030.
Newsom vetoed an earlier version of the bill in 2019, saying he thought it had too many waivers for industry.
But one of the lead sponsors of the bill said this year's version addresses Newsom's concerns.
The bill would apply to all plastic beverage containers in the state's bottle deposit program. It phases in post-consumer content requirements, starting at 15 percent in 2022 and rising to 25 percent in 2025.
"The time has come for shared responsibility," said Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. "Our environment suffers when companies keep making new plastic every time they need a drink container. They need to reuse what they've already made."
The bill passed unanimously in both chambers in its final vote Aug. 30, in one of the last day's of its session. A statement from Ting's office said the bill had the highest recycled content mandates in the world.
Association of Plastic Recyclers President Steve Alexander said his group was strongly in favor of the bill, and hoped it would lead to more legislation setting recycled content requirements in other plastic packaging, rather than the PET bottles that Ting's legislation mostly focuses on.
"APR is strongly in favor of mandated recycled content or market demand for resins across a much broader plastic packaging chain, not just PET bottles," he said. "This is step No. 1."
While he said there are challenges in getting enough recycled materials from collection systems, he predicted other states will follow California's lead.
"I believe this will have some national implications," he said. "Everybody says California is a bellwether state. I think this will give rise to a lot of similar types of legislation."
The most recent analysis of the bill by California's legislature said it was supported by both industry groups, including the American Beverage Association and the Plastics Recycling Corp. of California, as well as environmental organizations including Californians Against Waste and Surfrider Foundation.
One likely reason for the broad support: The mandates in the legislation track, at least through 2025, commitments that many large beverage makers have already publicly made around recycled content in their PET bottles.
Another key sponsor of the bill, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, said she felt the legislation is practical.
"Assemblymember Ting and I worked extensively with the industry stakeholders to ensure that this bill is both bold and workable," she said. "The result is the most aggressive recycled content mandate in the world for plastic bottles."
The bill's authors say they want to bolster end markets for recycled materials by mandating content. More than 97 percent of the containers covered would be PET bottles.
It does include more flexibility in implementing the law in later years, giving the state agency CalRecycle the authority to adjust the recycled content requirements in 2025, either on its own or in response to petitions from the beverage industry, based on market conditions.
The American Beverage Association said the legislation would help the state build a closed loop recycling system for its bottles.
"The passage of AB 793 out of the legislature is a step toward providing California with additional tools to help increase the production of recycled PET that can be used to make new bottles," ABA said.
Initial versions of the legislation in mid-2019 had called for much steeper recycled requirements, starting at 25 percent in 2021 and rising to 75 percent in 2030. But industry groups like ABA removed their opposition last year when the recycled content percentages were lowered.
The bill now goes to Newsom's desk. He has until Sept. 30 to sign or reject it.