As state governments grapple with how to bolster weak markets for recycled plastics and other materials, they're increasingly looking at laws requiring companies to use recycled content in packaging.
New Jersey, for example, is considering new legislation that would be among the strictest in the country in mandating recycled plastic in a wide range of beverage bottles, rigid containers, trash bags and carryout bags, along with recycled content in glass and paper packaging.
It mirrors actions underway in other states, particularly around plastic bottles.
The legislature in Washington state, for example, passed a law in March mandating recycled plastic in beverage bottles, starting at 10 percent and rising to 50 percent. Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed it, however, arguing that with coronavirus raging and revenues falling, it was not the time to consider such a plan.
Similarly, California passed a recycled content law for plastic bottles last year, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it, saying it was not strict enough.
Now New Jersey is taking it up. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said legal mandates are needed to help make recycling economical for city governments and to deal with the fallout of China's 2017 decision to stop importing materials for recycling.
"The point of it is to get as much of this stuff out of landfill and the environment as possible and also to create markets for recycled materials, so that our recycling becomes more economically feasible," said Smith, who is head of the state Senate's Environment and Energy Committee.
"Since China has shut down being the dump of the world, we now have these materials either building up in locations, or municipal governments are paying higher and higher tipping fees."
The legislation would set targets for plastic, glass and paper packaging, with some supporters saying it would include the most ambitious plastic packaging requirement in the country.
It would, for example, require 35 percent recycled content in rigid plastic containers in 2022. Plastic beverage bottles would need 10 percent recycled content in 2022, 25 percent in 2026 and 50 percent in 2031.
Plastic trash bags would need to have 10 percent recycled content by 2022, and reusable plastic carryout bags would need 20 percent recycled content by 2022 and 40 percent by 2025.
The bill would allow companies to request waivers for technical issues or if they can't find enough recycled materials. It exempts refillable containers and packaging for hazardous materials, as well as banning loose fill expanded polystyrene packaging in 2022.
Environmental groups supported the measure and urged a focus on waste prevention in addition to recycling.
"Requiring recycled content in packaging is one of many steps toward the extended producer responsibility we that need, but it's not a waste prevention policy," Maura Toomey, a policy coordinator with Clean Water Action's New Jersey office, said.