As a California-based company, we’re accustomed to lauding our state for its environmental activism in the areas of air quality or coastal protection but have been equally disappointed to see it lag in eliminating single-use plastic or the forever chemicals known as PFAS. That began to change as the 2021 legislative session ended in September with some new rules that begin protecting us from the abuses of plastic packaging manufacturers. Now we hope the framework of these laws begins to make its way across the country.
Nine sustainability bills were passed in the final hours of the session, all addressing aspects of recycling, single-use plastic, or PFAS. Importantly, some of these new laws will eventually get to the heart of our collective concerns about the misuse of materials, labeling and disposal arrangements as they phase in over the next few years. It’s a long time to have to wait considering the level of the crisis we face but, in governance, it represents a new and unstoppable force in the right direction.
A few of our favorites include:
AB 881 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) – addressing how exported waste can be counted as recycled. We’ve been wanting to cover this issue before but haven’t for a few reasons, so our thanks to Assemblymember Gonzalez for opening the door to it.
Many people are familiar with the statistic of 9% of plastic waste being recycled in the U.S. It has always seemed pathetically low, except for the fact that the real number is even lower. Here’s why.
According to recent data, America creates about 36 million tons of plastic waste every year but classifies 3.1 million tons of it as recycled, giving us our paltry 9% rate. However, about 1.5 million tons of that “recycled” figure is material we export to Asia for processing. Evidence suggests that very little of it is ever properly recycled. Nevertheless, it’s counted as “recycled” once the ship leaves a U.S. port. If we reclassify all that waste as landfill instead of recycling, we’re closer to a real recycling rate of about 4%.
Hence, AB 881, which addresses a part of this deception by saying that only single-use plastic labeled 1, 2, and 5 can be counted as recycled when exported since no one is really recycling the other types anymore. Does it cause that material to be properly recycled? Not really. But does it eliminate the incentive for California disposal agencies trying to game the system to look like they’re successful recyclers? Yes. They’ll have to meet state recycling requirements the old-fashioned way now. They’ll have to recycle.
AB 1200 by Assemblymember Philip Ting (D-San Francisco) – plain and simple, it outlaws the forever chemical PFAS in food packaging beginning in January 2023 and requires products to be labeled with any chemical additives that may replace PFAS by 2024. It also prevents manufacturers from claiming they’ve eliminated a particular hazardous chemical if they’ve simply substituted it with another one from the same family of the toxic chemicals (We’re looking at you, PFOA).
AB 1201, also by Assemblymember Philip Ting – seeks to close a loophole on products labeling themselves as compostable or home compostable unless they meet specific international standards for doing so. It’s a step in the right direction because we see all the time that products wrap themselves in a compostability claim without any real validation they are remotely able to biodegrade.
Mindful consumers will often be misled by this type of greenwashing. Unfortunately, the international standards are complex and often hinge on utilizing industrial composting facilities that 96% of Americans can’t access. So, the designation is almost always more theoretical than practical. But the issue is now in play, and this bill can hopefully be amended soon to reflect real-world conditions.
Jybe continues to be baffled by the idea of compostable plastic in general, however, since it’s merely a more orderly way of creating microplastics. Research repeatedly shows that plastic never fully degrades, it just becomes microscopic and enters our bodies and ecosystems in untraceable ways. Ending its use is the real solution.
SB 343 by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) – we love this bill because it finally takes aim at the misuse of the “chasing arrows” recycling triangle (a.k.a. Mobius Loop). Starting in 2024, the state will establish which types of plastics are truly recyclable – versus potentially recyclable – based on whether they are actively recycled in jurisdictions that represent 60% of the state’s population.
If there’s no evidence a certain type of plastic is actually being recycled, the products made with it will no longer be allowed to claim they are recyclable here. In other words, if there’s no secondary market for the material, manufacturers can’t claim it’ll be reused.