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Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act Stalls in California Legislature

Plastic water bottles

The Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act, SB-54/AB-1080, did not pass the California State Legislature before the 2019/2020 legislative session ended on September 13, 2019.

The bills would have required all single-use packaging manufactured or sold in California to be recyclable or compostable by 2030 and would have also mandated a 75% reduction of waste generated by single-use packaging and priority single-use products through a combination of source reduction, recycling, or composting. “Priority single-use plastic products” were defined as “single-use food service ware, including plates, bowls, cups, utensils, stirrers, and straws.” In addition, producers of single-use packaging and priority single use plastic products would have been required to register with the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and report any data that the Department deemed necessary.

The California Legislature will reconvene on January 6, 2020, when both bills may be reconsidered, according to a press release from the American Chemical Council (ACC). Expressing support for the goals of SB-54/AB-1080, ACC encouraged the state legislature to “address key issues such as the need for funding to expand and improve the state’s recycling infrastructure and updating the state’s solid waste laws to ensure that innovative chemical recycling technologies are part of the solution.”

Concerns about the state’s recycling infrastructure were behind the Grocery Manufacturer Association opposition to the bills. In a September 10 editorial in the Orange County Register, GMA President and CEO Geoff Freeman pointed out that since 2013, 50% of California’s redemption centers have closed. He added, “Given the frustration around CalRecycle’s management of the existing recycling programs, regulated entities are likely to find further frustration in operating within a broken system, even under new policies. Sadly, [SB-54/AB-1080] could lead to a path where producers, and ultimately consumers, will be saddled with a $50,000 per day, per violation fine because of CalRecycle’s shortcomings.”

Another bill aimed at reducing plastic waste did, however, pass the state legislature by the September 13 deadline. AB-792 requires beverage containers to contain no less than 10% postconsumer recycled plastic content by 2021, 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. Governor Gavin Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto AB-792.