The year 2022 was significant and precedent-setting for the flexible packaging industry, with the addition of new state laws that will govern how packaging is made and managed at the end of life. Numerous states debated packaging issues, with two passing and signing extended producer responsibility (EPR) bills for packaging. Many more states are addressing issues like recycled content mandates, labeling, and toxic chemicals in packaging.
California is the most influential state on policy, and officials there now have been added to the list of states with an EPR bill. California has long debated packaging policy, and it ended up passing EPR legislation with SB 54.
The past year, the Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act was approved to be on the November 2022 statewide ballot for a vote, which kicked off the negotiations around SB 54 in early January to avoid the passage of the ballot initiative.
If the voters had been allowed to approve the Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, it would have required all single-use plastic packaging and single-use plastic food ware be reusable, refillable, recyclable, or compostable by 2030. It also would have imposed a 1-cent fee on every piece of plastic packaging sold into or out of the state of California.
The ballot initiative needed to be pulled off the ballot by June 30, which created a tight deadline that drove many businesses to go neutral on a legislatively crafted—and an amendable—version of SB 54 over the more aggressive and inflexible terms of a voter-approved ballot measure.
SB 54 creates an EPR program that establishes an industry-run producer responsibility organization (PRO) that has strict state regulatory oversight. The bill creates escalating minimum-content standards for single-use packaging, coupled with stringent source reduction requirements for manufacturers and distributors of plastic packaging. It also mandates that all plastic packaging be recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2032.
The PRO also will be assessed $500 million per year for 10 years for environmental mitigation across the state of California, with the money going toward littering programs, beach cleanups, and any environmental impacts created by plastic.
SB 54 applies to primary or consumer-facing packaging as well as secondary and tertiary packaging, which can be the pallet wrap used to secure multiple boxes of products.
Although we won’t know for a few years how the regulations will work out with SB 54, there will be a need to stay involved and aware of the changes coming to California.
Lastly, with the passage of a landmark bill in California, several states likely will have new laws coming in 2023, which will directly impact the flexible packaging industry for several years to come.
Lauren Aguilar is a government affairs associate at the firm Serlin Haley, a lobbyist for FPA, based in Washington, D.C.