California Takes Aim at Recycling Labeling

Two hands holding up small water bottle with blue label and recycling (chasing arrows) triangle symbol against a white background

October 14, 2021

California first state to restrict use of recycling symbol for plastic packaging

On October 5, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill No 343 (SB 343) into law, restricting use of the "chasing arrows" recycling symbols to products that meet new statewide recycling criteria. The bill stipulates that a plastic material and form (e.g., container shape) marked with the "chasing arrows" symbol must be collected and recycled in "jurisdictions that collectively encompass at least 60% of the population of the state" as well as routinely be used as a feedstock for the production of new products or packaging. The plastic product design also must not include any components such as inks, labels, or adhesives that prevent the recyclability of the product or packaging, as per the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) Design Guide.

Product labeling must be updated to comply with California's new law on or before January 1, 2024. All plastic materials that do not meet the new statewide recycling criteria are to be marked with the corresponding resin number (1 — 7) inside an equilateral triangle, with letter abbreviations for the resin below the triangle. SB 343 will require the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery to conduct a study on the rates of collection, sorting, transfers, and sales associated with different material types and forms of recycled materials in California to determine which materials meet the new state labeling requirements. With this law, California becomes the first state in the nation to restrict the use of the chasing arrows recycling symbol on plastic goods by mandating standards for its use.

The fate of plastics in the environment is an area of growing concern, as improperly disposed plastic articles may enter waterways where they have the potential to cause harm to wildlife or may take up space in landfills where they may persist for long periods. Increasing consumer awareness of improper end-of-life management of plastics is driving a number of legislative actions across the country intended to address this issue. New York is drafting legislation (A07668 and S7375) that would similarly impose restrictions on the use of the chasing arrows recycling symbol for plastic packaging. In July, Maine and Oregon became the first states to sign Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation (ME: LD 1541; OR: SB582) into law, requiring plastics producers to pay a portion of the cost to recycle the materials that they put into the market. Many other states currently have similar EPR bills working their way through the legislature.

How Exponent Can Help

Policymakers, engineers, and scientists will need to work together to effectively implement California's regulations and address the complex challenges associated with product stewardship and plastic end-of-life management strategies. Exponent is actively involved in helping clients understand how changes to labeling laws affect their business. Our interdisciplinary team understands the changing regulatory landscape of plastics packaging and helps our clients manage these transitional risks by offering integrated expertise from ecologists, toxicologists, polymer scientists, materials chemists, engineers, and chemical regulation professionals who can help select alternative plastics or aid clients in navigating technical lifecycle analyses.