New Jersey state lawmakers may be headed toward enacting one of the country's toughest mandates for recycled content in plastic packaging, with industry lobbyists saying the legislation could become law in coming weeks.
The measure would require 15-25 percent post-consumer content in plastic containers, 20 percent in retail bags and 10 percent in trash bags, with those percentages rising dramatically after a few years.
A lobbyist for several packaging and plastics trade groups who has been heavily involved with the bill expects a version to pass before lawmakers end their session in the next few weeks.
"This is likely, in my humblest of estimations, to become law at the end of this year," said Andrew Hackman, a lobbyist for the packaging trade association Ameripen as well as the Western Plastics Association, in comments to a Dec. 9 WPA webinar.
Hackman said the measure would immediately give New Jersey the strictest plastic recycled-content law in the country, ahead of the two other states that have taken similar steps.
"Washington state and California have laws on the books, but neither are as expansive as the legislation that's being considered here," Hackman said in comments at a Dec. 13 New Jersey legislative committee hearing, where he was testifying for Ameripen, a multi-material packaging association.
The Washington state legislation, which passed earlier this year, focuses on personal care and household products, while California has a 1991 law covering rigid plastic packaging and a 2020 law mostly for PET beverage containers.
The New Jersey bill also would put recycled-content requirements on paper shopping bags and glass bottles, and it would ban expanded polystyrene loose-fill packaging.
If it passes, it would be New Jersey's second major piece of plastics legislation, cementing the state as one of the most active. In 2020, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law banning some retail plastic and paper bags and EPS food containers.
At the Dec. 13 hearing, many industry groups took issue with the recycled-content proposal, saying that while they agree with the goals, the plan is too strict and there isn't nearly enough recycled plastic to meet the law's demands.
"One of the huge challenges with this bill is the lack of availability of recycled-content material, particularly food grade appropriate material," said Mary Ellen Peppard, assistant vice president for government affairs at the New Jersey Food Council. "Given the supply chain and labor constraints right now, that is really being exacerbated."
She pointed to "extreme concern" among companies about contamination from using recycling plastic in food containers.
"The transition to a lot of these types of [post-consumer recycled plastic] for food contact purposes is in its infancy," she said. "We unfortunately still have very significant concerns with this legislation."
The bill passed the state Senate on a 22-14 vote in June and has been working its way through state Assembly, where it has passed several committees.