A California bill tackling the plastic pollution crisis at the source is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk after a vote in the state Senate on Thursday.
The legislation, SB 54, will require producers to reduce single-use plastics packaging by at least 25%, by both weight and height, by 2032 and will also require 65% of covered materials be recycled or composted in 10 years.
The bill passed hours before a deadline to serve as an alternative to a ballot initiative in the November general election. Introduced in 2019 by lead author Sen. Ben Allen (D), it passed in the Senate 29-0 Thursday, following a 67-2 vote in the state Assembly on Wednesday.
Melissa Romero, senior legislative manager of California Environmental Voters, said that individuals in California have felt responsible for solving the plastic problem, and this bill is a step forward on addressing plastic pollution issues.
“It’s a win for the people of California because they have been frustrated by this issue,” Romero told Bloomberg Law. “They have been asking for action, they’ve signed all the petitions, they’ve demanded that their elected officials do something to reduce all of this unnecessary and unavoidable plastic. Finally, we have this comprehensive plastic pollution reduction policy.”
Opponents of the legislation raised concerns over taxes as an additional cost for consumers amid rising energy prices, living costs, and inflation.
Making Producers Responsible
SB 54 aims to set California on the path towards a circular economy by making producers responsible for improving recycling and composting infrastructure. Packaging producers of all materials must take financial responsibility for the full lifecycle of their products through extended producer responsibility.
The legislation defines recycling as maintaining materials in the circular economy, and “excluding incineration, combustion, or other plastics to fuel technologies, meaning pyrolysis and gasification, to meet required recycling rates.”
Activist group Beyond Plastics is in opposition to SB 54, pushing for stricter measures in the legislation. Judith Enck, president of the group, said building an extended producer responsibility program wouldn’t be effective, and that “reduction is the key to solving the plastic problem, not mythical plastics recycling.”
The bill’s current version “allows for plastics burning, does not require reductions in toxics in packaging, and does not have strong enough waste reduction requirements,” Enck told Bloomberg Law.
More support from environmental groups came after recent amendments were made to address environmental justice issues.
SB 54 would order producers and plastics resin manufacturers to pay $500 million a year for 10 years starting in 2027 for environmental mitigation funds to address harms to disadvantaged, low-income, and rural communities, as well as recover, restore, and protect the natural environment.
Californians Against Waste, an environmental advocacy organization, opposed the bill in mid June, but recently switched to support it.