FPA Submits Comments and Joins Coalition Concerned About California Recycling Law

FPA Submits Comments and Joins Coalition Concerned About California Recycling Law

The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) submitted comments on and joined the Consumer Brands Association, California Chamber of Commerce, and other similarly situated trade groups in Coalition comments to California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) for California’s Senate Bill (SB) 343 Preliminary Findings Report. The report attempted to detail the materials commonly collected, sorted, sold, or transferred for recycling in California.

“The Coalition represents virtually all aspects of the packaging value chain and some of the most integral stakeholders in the work that CalRecycle is undertaking to increase recycling in California,” according to submitted Coalition comments. “CalRecycle’s efforts are likely to have a significant impact not only on California itself but also on national recycling and sustainability practices due to the state’s importance.”

The preliminary findings report is intended to provide legislators and the public with information so they can evaluate whether a product or package is recyclable in California as established by SB 343 (Allen, Chapter 507, Statutes of 2021). SB 343 aims to present consumers with accurate information about what is and is not recyclable in California. The intent of SB 343 is to help consumers make more informed choices when purchasing products and to provide guidance on the correct disposal or recycling method at the end of the product’s life. 

However, as FPA stated during its opposition to the bill and has reiterated in its comments on the preliminary findings report, FPA believes it will only lessen the collection and recycling of recyclable material and add to landfill waste.

Some of the most pressing areas of concern with the report are outlined below:

  • The material characterization study provides insufficient clarity on the recyclability of all the material types studied. The purpose of the report was to provide information to help identify if a product/package is recyclable in California, but it provides only raw data regarding the sampling and sorting conducted at facilities by a CalRecycle contractor. The report’s current format contains technical language and lacks clear guidance, which can confuse businesses and consumers. The final report should include clear and concise information on what materials are recyclable.
  • The report fails to provide complete and accurate data limitations. “Limitations in study data both collected and reported publicly leave uncertainty regarding whether the data gathered is sufficient to completely and accurately determine if each of the material types and forms studied is recyclable in California under the recyclability criteria set forth in SB 343,” the submitted comments state. The data used in the report is critical for accurate conclusions about recycling in California. However, neither the study nor the report contains complete and accurate data sufficient to allow the public to figure out what materials are deemed recyclable in California.
  • Only two tests for recyclability were used out of several identified in SB 343. The comments reflect that the report does not fully address the criteria for recyclability that CalRecycle was directed to assess for material characterization. There is concern that recyclable packaging could lose its recyclability designation/claim and will be diverted to landfills.
  • The report deviates from California Recyclability Guidance and contradicts SB 54. “SB 343 will ultimately interplay with the California extended producer responsibility program established by Senate Bill 54, which also relates to the recyclability of products within California,” according to Coalition comments. “However, the SB 343 Preliminary Findings Report significantly diverges from the SB 54 Covered Materials Categories List, even though the definition of ‘recyclable’ in SB 54 expressly cross-references and adopts the definition of ‘recyclable’ in SB 343.”
  • CalRecycle should work with legislators to help increase recycling capabilities and encourage recycling education. SB 343 will have a significant impact on companies manufacturing packaging across the United States, and removing the chasing arrows symbol and resin codes from packaging may lead to unintended environmental and legal consequences. Over 20 other state laws conflict with SB 343 labeling requirements. The chasing arrows symbol and the disposal directions on the package provide consumers with some basic recyclability information. With the information removed, more packaging could end up in landfills and lead to lower recycling rates.

As can be seen in the concerns for the preliminary findings report, the Coalition and especially FPA strongly believe that clarity and consumer education on the recyclability of plastics and flexible films are important steps for packaging circularity and that a robust store drop-off program should be supported and not abandoned—as SB 343 and the preliminary report would appear to do. 

To that end, FPA joined the Plastics Industry Association’s Flexible Film Recycling Alliance (FFRA). FFRA is a new initiative to educate the public on the sustainability and recyclability of flexible plastic film products in the U.S. It works to improve the recycling of flexible film products by working to accelerate recycling rates, access, and education.

“The Flexible Packaging Association is excited to belong to FFRA, an Alliance that will focus on flexible film recycling store drop-off programs, including a much-needed sustainable solution to enable consumers to quickly and accurately find the stores that participate,” says Alison Keane, FPA president and CEO. 

“Consumer education will also be key, and with this type of supply chain collaboration, we will be able to make the necessary impact required to promote this valuable collection system.”

FFRA is working on developing solutions to address the challenges surrounding the recycling of flexible films and bags and prioritize the following key initiatives:

  • Operation of a best-in-class plastic film recycling directory for use by consumers and the industry.
  • Consumer education that provides information outlining the best ways to effectively recycle flexible plastic film products.
  • Promotion of the most responsible uses and recycling methods for flexible plastic film products.
  • Amplification of programming to inform consumers and policymakers of the sustainability benefits of flexible plastic film products.

FFRA members encompass the entire plastics supply chain and like-minded organizations and associations. 

For more information on the Alliance, contact kfisher@plasticsindustry.org

Dani Diehlmann is FPA vice president, communications.