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California Will Regulate Use of the Recycling Symbol

Companies who label their products with the recycle symbol may soon have to remove it. If enacted, California Senate Bill 343 would prohibit companies from labeling their products with the famous three arrows within a green circle.

Products would be considered recyclable if the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) determines they have a viable end market to be recycled into and meet particular design standards, such as not containing toxic chemicals like PFAs. CalRecycle would collect data on materials that are most commonly recycled across the state.

One key criteria is that a product or packaging will be considered recyclable if it has what the bill describes as “demonstrated recycling rate of at least 75%, meaning that not less than 75% of the product or packaging sorted and aggregated in the state is reprocessed into new products or packaging.”

There’s no strict standard for using the recycle symbol and no criteria for companies to meet in order to use it. California state Sen. Ben Allen wanted to change that after learning that plastic sleeves that hold the morning newspaper were ending up in landfills. The sleeves are labeled as recyclable, but in reality, they weren’t being recycled – a common fate for single-use plastic products in California, where only 15% of such products are actually recycled.

Opposition to SB 343 has come from lobbyists and groups representing the plastics and packaging industries.

“SB 343 puts more plastic in landfills, not less,” Matt Seaholm, vice president of government affairs at the Plastics Industry Association, said in a report from Recycling Today. “A number of common plastic products like yogurt cups and microwavable trays would be deemed unrecyclable and, therefore, would be landfilled. Four-and-a-half million tons of polypropylene would now be landfilled as a result of this legislation. All of these products and many more are not only recyclable but are currently recycled in California. We urge the governor to veto this misguided legislation and work with all stakeholders on common-sense solutions to reduce plastic waste, such as increasing investment in recycling infrastructure.”

With the California state legislature having passed SB 343, it now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

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