What You Need to Know About Single-Use Plastic Regulation in California
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Historic legislation passed last year in California banning all single-use and non-sustainable packaging. The law is designed to cut plastic use, improve California’s recycling system, and shift the waste burden back onto the packaging industry.
In June 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California enacted SB 54, legislation that requires all packaging to be compostable or recyclable by 2032. The projected result of the rule will reduce plastic packaging by 25% and recycle 65% of single-use items by the deadline. The bill dovetails neatly into the California Climate Commitment, a $53.9 billion initiative underway to reduce pollution and protect Californians from the effects of extreme drought, heat, and fires.
Additionally, the law will channel $5 billion collected from plastic producers to support efforts to achieve the goal and help communities inordinately affected by plastic waste.
What that means is that any company that makes, sells, or distributes plastic items covered under the law is now required to join an organization dedicated to plastic producer responsibility. Every year, each group member must pay the state $500 million, which will go towards monitoring and reducing the health and environmental impacts of plastics in California and addressing and mitigating effects within underserved and low-income communities.
To quote Gov. Newsom, “We’re holding polluters responsible and cutting plastics at the source.”
We’re holding polluters responsible and cutting plastics at the source.Gov. Newsom
Considering that less than 10% of all plastics are recycled, it’s high time for a change. As the most sweeping and stringent plastics ban in the nation, California is setting a new standard that will, hopefully, inform the way forward for all states.
Single-Use Plastic Ban Regulation in California
It’s vital to note that although SB 54 is statewide, it stands apart from specific county and municipal legislation and bans. Los Angeles and San Diego recently enacted a polystyrene ban, which goes into effect this April. Because the ban takes place in California’s two largest cities, it stands to support broader efforts to reduce dependence on single-use plastics and make life better and healthier for lower-income communities.
Currently, 129 cities or counties have already enacted polystyrene bans, with some dating back as far as the late 1980s. In these older cases, specifically Berkeley, Yountville, Sonoma (city and county, government facilities only), and Carmel, most have banned single-use EPS in foodservice and require at least 50% of food packaging materials to be compostable, recyclable, or reusable.
But as you navigate down the list of existing localized bans, you’ll see they range significantly in scope. For example, not all bans are complete. Some apply only to restaurants and foodservice, others only to government facilities, and still others are total bans on using and distributing any polystyrene (foam) products.
California Bans on Plastic
Single-use carryout bags are banned in most California municipalities as of October 2016.
Single-use produce bags are also banned, though the phaseout is still ongoing and won’t be in full force until January 1, 2025. After that date, stores will be required to replace plastic film with paper or some sort of compostable bag. Californians Against Waste states that the average life of a plastic produce bag is about 15 minutes, which means after their useful time is up, they’re relegated to the trash, where they are unlikely to be recycled even with the best intentions.
Bans on Other Materials
While it’s unlikely we’ll see a widespread end to the manufacture and distribution of plastic products, more stringent legislation will help to curb the environmental damage we’re experiencing now.
Even banned items, like EPS, have exemptions when used for medical devices, drugs, and in seafood storage and transportation. Until there is a comparably sterile product that fits with today’s sustainability mandates, there will always be some in circulation.
However, new requirements for producer responsibility may drive innovation once we have a better grip on the situation. Single-use item bans will help to fill the gaps, keeping massive amounts of waste out of landfills—but individuals and business owners have a part to play.
How Plastic Bans Will be Enforced
While we know the single-use plastic ban and related initiatives will benefit California and its people, businesses involved in manufacturing, distributing, and selling such items are vehemently opposed. They state the aggressive bill and associated taxes will cost consumers who can least afford it around $900 per year, although the truth is that the bulk of the tax would fall upon the producers themselves. Plus, tax revenue from the initiative will be channeled into habitat restoration, recycling programs, and implementation/enforcement of the rule.
Currently, it remains to be seen how the California plastics ban will be enforced. Still, one might expect that health and safety inspectors, local bylaw enforcement, and the recyclers themselves will play a part. Additionally, if single-use plastics are not manufactured and distributed locally, the price will likely skyrocket, which will quite effectively reduce the impetus to buy—and that’s just simple economics.
Products Included in the Plastic Ban and Alternatives to Consider
If you are a business owner looking for alternatives to single-use plastics for foodservice or other types of packaging, you have options and should not be worried too much about the change. Plastic carryout bags have been banned for a while, and customers adapted quickly.
When the dangers of BPC plastic and other types of water bottles became widely published, most people switched to reusable, refillable alternatives, which successfully created whole new industries and commercial opportunities for brands everywhere.
There is no reason that single-use food packaging should be any different. And indeed, it’s just a matter of ensuring the containers you use are recyclable and compostable.
Compostable foodservice containers like those offered by Greenprint are fully compostable and made of renewable plant-based materials like agave, sugar cane, PHA, and paper fibers. Together, we can work towards a better future with California’s trend-setting initiative leading the way.