New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Jan. 18 that sets up one of the country's broadest mandates for recycled content in plastic packaging, adding to state-level momentum for such laws.
Murphy, a Democrat, signed a law requiring recycled content in plastic bottles, containers, carryout bags and trash bags, as well as glass containers and some paper packaging.
The state's Legislature had approved the plan Jan. 10, making New Jersey the first state on the East Coast for the content mandates, following Washington state and California.
Environmentalists hailed the passage, saying that the law, which had been debated in the Legislature for two years, would help build up markets and reduce reliance on virgin plastic.
"The main objective of the plastic content recycling bill is to reduce the production of virgin plastic, increase the use of recycled content, enhance the recycled plastics market and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of packaging," Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
Industry officials have previously taken issue with parts of the plan, saying that while they support the goals, they felt some of its targets are too lofty and they pointed to potential problems sourcing recycled plastic suitable for food containers.
In a statement, the packaging industry trade group Ameripen said it recognizes the need for strong end markets for recycled materials and said its member companies have made aggressive commitments to use more of them. Dan Felton, executive director of the group, in a Jan. 11 statement, urged Murphy to veto the bill.
"While we appreciate positive amendments that have been made to the legislation, we continue to have concerns with the aggressive escalation of the goals within it and mechanisms used to mandate recycled-content use," he said.
The legislation requires plastic bottles to have at least 15 percent recycled content two years after the bill is enacted, with that percentage rising over about 15 years to 50 percent. Hot-fill bottles would be capped at 30 percent. Similarly, rigid plastic containers would start at a 10 percent recycled-content level and rise to 50 percent over time.
Plastic carryout bags would be required to have at least 20 percent recycled content, rising to 40 percent over time, while trash bags would also have to include recycled materials, based on the thickness of the bag.
Doug O'Malley, director of the group Environment New Jersey, called the vote a "big win" and said it came after two years of legislative debate and multiple hearings.
"New Jersey faces a plastic pollution crisis," O'Malley said. "We can't recycle our way out of this crisis and this recycled-content bill will set a national standard to moving towards more recycled content."
The legislation also allows the state's Department of Environmental Protection to adjust the recycled-content targets in the future and grant waivers to companies if they can show they cannot comply based on several factors. It also bans expanded polystyrene loose-fill packaging.
Significantly, the bill exempts many food containers from meeting the recycled-content provisions for five years, and it completely exempts milk and plant-based milk packaging. Plastic and glass beverage bottles, however, are not covered by any of those food exemptions and must meet the bill's full requirements.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington welcomed the passage, saying that it "reflects a strong commitment to not only increase the use of recycled content in packaging materials, but to develop a sustainable program with quantifiable metrics and realistic goals."
"This will help increase stakeholder commitment throughout the supply chain to ensure plastics are responsibly manufactured, collected and recycled into new products," ISRI said in a statement attributed to its plastics division and its New Jersey chapter.
The bill passed the Assembly on a 48-23-3 vote and the Senate on a 22-15 vote.