What California’s New Plastic Law Could Signal for the Future of Your Packaging

In June, California’s governor signed Senate Bill 54 (S.B. 54), otherwise known as Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act—one of the most sweeping plastics legislations in the U.S. This new law restricts the use of single-use plastic packaging sold from and into California, which experts say could be a bellwether for legislation that might extend across the U.S. We’ve discussed the environmental issues associated with plastic packaging waste, but this is one of the first pieces of legislation to be called a “game-changer” as the U.S. looks to deal with its plastic pollution problem.

“The magnitude of this legislation really can’t be overstated,” says Anja Brandon, a plastics policy analyst at the Ocean Conservancy, a key stakeholder in the bill’s creation. “This is the first legislation anywhere in the world that requires a simple reduction in the amount of plastic.”’

Will California’s legislation become a roadmap for other states to follow? Only time will tell, but efforts to reduce single-plastic use have continued to gain momentum across the country.

What the law requires: At its highest level, The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act is designed to drastically reduce plastic pollution through source reduction, sustainable materials and recycling efforts. It imposes new sustainability packaging requirements, mandating that 65 percent of plastic packaging and single-service plastic wear (those pervasive white, plastic forks and spoons) be recyclable or compostable by 2032. By 2032, there must also be a 25 percent reduction in the sales of plastic packaging.[1]

In addition, producers must join a “producer responsibility organization” (PRO) by Jan. 1, 2024, or they will be prohibited from selling within the state. PROs are composed of industry representatives and are required to implement and monitor the collection, processing, record-keeping and reporting requirements of producers under the Act. To do this, they will collect fees from each member producer.

The legislation is based on a practice of shifting responsibility to producers, which isn’t a new concept. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been in use in the European Union since the 1990s, and in Western Europe, it has been shown to contribute to higher recycling rates. California is the fourth state, alongside Colorado, Maine and Oregon to pass EPR policy for single-use plastic packaging.

Who it impacts: Similar to many EPR laws, the Act focuses on companies that sell, distribute or import products using specified packaging the state. According to GreenBiz: “This would sweep in nearly any company that makes any consumer or commercial goods with single-use packaging or food service ware sold in the state.”

Experts for the apparel and beauty industries anticipate a large impact. Rachel Cernansky, sustainability editor of Vogue Business, said, “The law will force changes in all packaging, from e-commerce to the single-use polybags used to transport clothes from manufacturer to distributor, as well as plastic films and niche forms of packaging like collar stays, which will need to be replaced with reusable versions or have systems redesigned to eliminate them entirely.”

What happens if you don’t comply? The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery may impose penalties, capped at $50,000 per day per violation. Fines will go into the Circular Economy Penalty Account.

Steps You Can Take to Prepare

The legislation is broad sweeping, but the first deadlines are more than a year out, so you have some time to research your options. Here’s where to start:

Step 1: Conduct a packaging audit—Before you do anything, evaluate what portion of your packaging is single use plastic, and what role does that packaging play. Consider factors such as the packaging material, durability and size. Can you reduce the amount of material used in your packaging? What type of protective qualities do you need from your packaging?  What type of communication and branding does your package need to deliver?

Step 2: Eliminate unnecessary packaging—Ultimately, the most sustainable packaging will not only be the one that is made of sustainable properties, but protects your product using the least amount of material possible. That’s why many stock packaging options might not be the best fit. JBM’s experienced packaging consultants can help you design a custom packaging solution that eliminates waste with the precise amount of material needed to ensure your product reaches your customer safely and securely.

Step 3: Transition from single-use plastic packaging to recyclable or compostable paper packaging—To improve the recyclability and compostability of your packaging, we can help. Not all packaging requires the barrier properties of plastic, and paper-based solutions can provide a viable alternative. Working with JBM Packaging, you can select from a range of recycled content options in different colors and finishes that your customers can drop into their curbside recycling bins or composting facilities when they no longer need it. Additionally, paper packaging can be printed, which can improve your brand perception and reduce the need for additional printed materials.

Your Packaging Partner

As you look to maintain compliance with evolving regulations and reduce the environmental impact, let JBM help take the guesswork out of your sustainable packaging. We can help you protect your product with a package that reflects your brand and helps you achieve your sustainability goals.

Still not sure if the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act applies to you?

Here are a few key definitions and terms to know:

  • Producer: A person who manufactures a product that uses covered material and who owns or is the licensee of the brand or trademark under which the product is used in a commercial enterprise, sold, offered for sale, or distributed in the state.
  • Packaging: Any separable and distinct material component used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery, or presentation of goods by the producer for the user or consumer, ranging from raw materials to processed goods. It includes, but is not limited to, all of the following:
    1. Sales packaging or primary packaging intended to provide the user or consumer the individual serving or unit of the product and most closely containing the product, food, or beverage.
    2. Grouped packaging or secondary packaging intended to bundle, sell in bulk, brand, or display the product.
    3. Transport packaging or tertiary packaging intended to protect the product during transport.
    4. Packaging components and ancillary elements integrated into packaging, including ancillary elements directly hung onto or attached to a product and that perform a packaging function, except both of the following:
      • An element of the packaging or food service ware with a de minimis weight or volume.