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California passes first-in-nation plastics recycling law

By Paul Rogers, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

In a move aimed at reducing huge amounts of plastic litter in the oceans, along roadways and other parts of the state, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a first-in-the-nation law requiring plastic beverage containers to contain an increasing amount of recycled material.

Under it, companies that produce everything from sports drinks to soda to bottled water must use 15% recycled plastic in their bottles by 2022, 25% recycled plastic by 2025, and 50% recycled plastic by 2030.

Supporters of the new law say it will help increase demand for recycled plastic, curb litter and reduce consumption of oil and gas, which are used to manufacture new plastics.

"This is the most ambitious, aggressive recycled plastics content law in the world," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a Sacramento-based environmental group.

In a legislative session hamstrung by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, the bill, AB 793 by Assembly members Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, was considered to be among the most significant environmental laws that passed this year.

In California, roughly 12 billion plastic bottles are sold every year. Although about 70% are recycled, often into other types of plastic packaging, more than 3 billion bottles are not recycled at all, according to state statistics. Most of those are dumped in landfills or discarded as litter in the outdoors.


After China stopped accepting many waste plastics two years ago, there has been a glut.

"We are doing a really good job of collecting things for recycling," Murray said. "The difficult part has been finding an end-use market for it. This new law is about closing the loop. Now companies that manufacture the plastic bottles have to buy them back. They'll have the responsibility."

California already requires 35% of glass bottles sold in the state to be made of recycled content, and 50% of newsprint to be made from recycled content.

Some industry groups opposed the bill when it was first introduced two years ago, helping kill it then. But with an increasing number of companies committed to making recycled bottles as scientists report more and more alarming facts about plastic pollution in the oceans, and European nations imposing similar rules, their opposition has largely melted away.


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