California state legislators unveiled a broad series of plastics packaging proposals March 9, including recycled content for thermoformed containers and phaseouts of film in e-commerce shipping.
Eight lawmakers who nearly passed significant producer responsibility laws last year unveiled their package of 12 bills on March 9, saying they are needed to reduce the impact of single-use packaging.
"Plastic waste is a global threat to our oceans, marine life, natural resources and public health," said state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica. "But it's also hitting regular folks who are being asked to pay more and more through trash pickup rates to put patches on our broken waste management system."
One new element for plastic packaging makers is a requirement that thermoformed containers like berry clamshells have recycled content, starting at 10 percent and rising to 30 percent, while also setting penalties for manufacturers that do not meet that requirement.
A sponsor of that bill, Assembly Member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said it builds on a law passed in 2020 requiring up to 50 percent recycled content for plastic beverage containers. He urged California "to do the same for thermoform food containers, like clamshells."
"We need to redesign products so they can be repurposed, not pollute our environment," Ting said.
Some of the legislative language, like the thermoformed bill, is not very detailed, and one source described some of the measures as placeholders with details to be filled in later.
The centerpiece proposal, the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, is not as detailed as last year's version, which would have required single-use plastic packaging to have a 75 percent recycling or composting rate by 2032.
But in pushing the new plan, lawmakers said they see continued major problems in the state's markets for recycling low-value plastics and paper, especially after China banned scrap imports in 2018. Their new plan wants all single-use disposable packaging or foodserviceware to be recyclable or compostable after 2032.
The previous bill was the subject of intense negotiations the last two years in the state capitol, and major provisions changed several times before ultimately failing in the final hours of the legislative session.
This year, though, there's a new political wrinkle that could put more pressure on passage, in the form of a referendum likely to go before California voters in November 2022.
That vote would ask the electorate to approve a 1-cent fee in plastic packaging to fund environmental cleanup and recycling, as well as ban or limit some single-use plastics.
A plastics industry group said it looked forward to working with the legislators around solutions to plastics waste and urged lawmakers to consider new technologies for difficult to recycle materials.