California Regulations Tighten Standards for Recyclability Claims on Packaging

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
January 31st, 2024

Recyclability in California requires meeting strict criteria, including widespread collection, sorting in large-volume facilities, adherence to plastic packaging guidelines, and avoiding materials like PFAS and specific chemicals that hinder recyclability.

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In 2021, California implemented Senate Bill 343 (SB 343), ushering in a new era of stringent regulations on recycling labeling. The law aims to curb false or misleading claims, including the iconic chasing arrows symbol, unless the product or packaging adheres to specific statewide recyclability criteria as outlined by CalRecycle.

For a product or packaging to be deemed recyclable in California, it must meet rigorous criteria. This includes being collected for recycling by programs covering at least 60% of the state's population and being sorted into defined streams by large-volume facilities. Provisions also address plastic packaging, ensuring it does not contain components that hinder recyclability, as specified by the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Moreover, substances such as per- or poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) and certain identified chemicals are grounds for non-recyclability.


Recyclable Criteria

Beyond the foundational requirements, a product or packaging can be labeled as recyclable if it demonstrates a recycling rate of at least 75% in California. Different standards are set for non-curbside collected items, with an escalating target of 60% before 2030 and 75% thereafter. These criteria are designed to enhance recycling efficiency and encourage sustainable practices.

As of December 28, 2023, CalRecycle released preliminary findings, identifying commonly recycled packaging materials. A subsequent report indicated that 37 out of 98 Covered Material Categories met the state's recyclable criteria. Notably, these categories encompass glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper, and select rigid plastics. However, concerns have been raised regarding potential conflicts with federal guidelines and those of other states.


Public Engagement

To address these concerns, CalRecycle will conduct a public workshop on February 13, 2024, presenting the preliminary findings and seeking public feedback. Comments can be submitted via email or at the workshop until the February 29, 2024 deadline. The final findings report, specifying eligible recyclable materials, will be published within 60 days of the workshop. Manufacturers will then have 18 months to comply with SB 343 requirements.

SB 343 mandates periodic studies by CalRecycle to update the statewide materials characterization analysis. The second study, slated for completion in 2027, will be followed by subsequent assessments every five years. This iterative approach ensures that regulations evolve to address emerging challenges and advancements in recycling technologies.

The iconic chasing arrows symbol, created in 1970, faces potential removal from certain plastic packaging due to SB 343. Initially designed for Earth Day, the symbol has evolved over the years and is now in the public domain. The resin identification code (RIC) system, introduced in 1988, complements the chasing arrows symbol, aiding recyclers in sorting plastic containers.


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