California makes recycled content in plastic bottles mandatory with ‘world’s strongest recycled content standards’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

'This legislation will exceed every current standard in the world', says Nestle Waters, supporting the legislation. Pic:getty/cavanimages
'This legislation will exceed every current standard in the world', says Nestle Waters, supporting the legislation. Pic:getty/cavanimages

Related tags California rPET Recycling Plastic bottles

California is the first US state to require beverage containers to use a set amount of recycled plastic: starting with 15% recycled content in 2022 and increasing to 50% in 2030.

Signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom last week, the bill AB 793 seeks to help develop the domestic market for recycled material and take a ‘critical step’ towards a circular economy, reducing dependence on oil and virgin plastics.

'Real plastic recycling only happens when manufacturers convert material into new bottles' 

The new law will require that all plastic bottles covered by the state's container redemption program contain a specified average amount of post-consumer recycled plastic content. As of January 1, 2022 plastic beverage bottles on sale in California must contain, on average, at least 15% recycled plastic. This will rise to 25% in 2025 and reach 50% in 2030.

Manufacturers who do not reach the threshold of recycled plastic content will receive a penalty of 20 cents for each pound of postconsumer resin (PCR) short of the target. Money received from these fines will go towards recycling initiatives, collection and processing of plastic bottles.

Environmental organization Californians Against Waste has welcomed the ‘landmark legislation’.

Real plastic recycling isn't finished when people take plastic bottles to recycling centers,” ​said Mark Murray, ​executive director of the organization. “It only happens when manufacturers convert the material from those bottles into new products. This is the first real plastic recycling law adopted in California - and it establishes a world-leading standard for minimum recycled content.  This new law represents an essential step toward achieving a circular economy.

The association says California’s leadership on setting a minimum recycled plastic content will bolster recycling centres by dramatically strengthening demand for recyclable materials. It notes recycled content will no longer need to compete with cheap virgin plastic and demand for recycled content will increase.

The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), an international trade association representing the plastics recycling industry, also welcomes the legislation.

The passage of this bill is a critical step forward,” ​said Steve Alexander, President and CEO of the APR. “Mandated PCR content creates market demand, which in turn monetizes the entire waste and recycling management system.”

 “This is clearly a step in the right direction, but this is only the first step. We need to look at more minimum PCR requirements for all plastic packaging. APR looks forward to working with consumer brand companies to meet the requirements of this bill as well as their sustainability goals”

Nestlé Waters North America - whose brands include Arrowhead, Pure Life, Perrier and S. Pellegrino and has the vast majority of its products packaged in plastic bottles - has also voiced its support. It says California will become a ‘global leader in recycled content’.

“This legislation will establish first in the nation minimum content requirements which when fully implemented will exceed every current standard in the world,”​ it says.

California notes the factors involved in reaching recycled plastic thresholds: such as recycling rates; capacity of recycling and processing infrastructure; and the availability of food-grade recycled plastic which meets requirements. The legislation allows for the goals to be reviewed on an annual basis as of 2025.

Nestlé Waters North America: Goal to use 25% rPET across US portfolio by 2021 and 50% by 2025. It currently uses 50% rPET in single-serve bottles of Arrowhead Brand Mountain Spring Water and Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water produced in California.

Keurig Dr Pepper: plans to use 30% post-consumer recycled content across its portfolio by 2025.

Coca-Cola: has set targets to use at least 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030. It currently uses 10% recycled material in PET plastic packaging globally.

PepsiCo: plans to use 25% recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025.

Across the US, the American Beverage Association’s Every Bottle Back initiative (launched last year) is focusing on encouraging recycling among consumers. It also includes a pledge to improve the quality and availability of recycled plastic in key regions by directing the equivalent of $400m to The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners through a $100m industry fund matched by other grants and investors. These are being to used to improve sorting, processing and collection in areas with the biggest infrastructure gaps.   

In Europe, the European Union last year adopted a directive on single-use plastic products which require plastic bottles to contain at last 25% recycled plastic from 2025 and at least 30% recycled content by 2030.

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