Calif sees stricter laws on plastics recyclability, but industry fears PP, thermoforming will suffer

In addition to reforming the use of hunting arrows, the legislation is initiating a regulatory process that could prevent some key plastic packaging materials, such as polypropylene, from being labeled as recyclable in the state.

It instructs the government agency CalRecycle to compile a list of what can and cannot be labeled as recyclable by January 1, 2023.

This provision is of particular concern to groups of companies such as the plastics association and the packaging company Ameripen.

They fear CalRecycle will decide that only PET and high density polyethylene bottles are strong enough to carry recycling labels, leaving out PP packaging and thermoforming.

“SB-343 … will limit strong and viable recycling markets in the state, particularly for PET thermoforming and polypropylene,” Crawford said in a July statement to state lawmakers.

They and other industry lobbyists say they believe CalRecycle would follow the lead of the California Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling, a study group established by state lawmakers in 2019.

In their first formal report, presented in June, this group reiterated SB-343’s calls for stricter labeling. And above all, it was recommended that only PET and HDPE bottles be marketed as recyclable within plastics and that hunting arrow symbols should be used.

Crawford said the plastic association was “very concerned”. Allen’s legislation adopts some of the Commission’s criteria and would result in CalRecycle declaring “only PET and HDPE bottles as recyclable”.

“Thermoformed PET film or lamshells, which contain so much California fresh produce, would not be considered recyclable, nor would polypropylene, which is the preferred resin for a wide variety of foods because of its material properties,” said Crawford.

It would have the “unintended” effects, she said, of “less recycling and more materials going to landfill”.

Industry groups are working on programs to promote PP and PET thermoform clamshell recycling.

The Recycling Partnership, for example, announced on Aug. 24 that an industry-funded initiative for PP had spent $ 4.2 million last year to improve roadside PP recycling access for 15 million Americans.

“Real solutions can only be achieved when the focus is on developing end markets,” said Crawford.

But proponents of Allen’s plan pushed back some of the industry issues, with one legislator responding to arguments it would inadvertently send more materials to landfills.

“There was a comment on this bill that resulted in more garbage being dumped,” said Cristina Garcia, D-Downey MP. “The reality is that most of this stuff is already dumped, or incinerated, or shipped where we claim to be recycling it.

“This is a false narrative that we have to overcome,” she said.

The recycling rates for PP and PET thermoforming are low. EPA figures say about 3 percent of PP packaging in the US is recycled.

And an industry report from this year estimates that around 9 percent of PET thermoforming is recycled nationwide.

Allen pointed to a recent survey of California cities that found that 70 percent of them had planned to increase waste collection rates by up to 20 percent, and he said California only recycles 15 percent of its plastic packaging.

“Our voters are already paying Band-Aid money because of our broken system,” he said.

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