Senate Bill 54 Calls on Producers of Specific Materials to Form a Producer Responsibility Organization
By Sam Catanzaro
California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law State Sen. Ben Allen’s (D – Santa Monica) plastic pollution bill that places the costs of waste management and recycling on producers rather than on local municipalities.
Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 54 on June 30 after it was passed by the California state legislature.
“For too long, plastic waste has been a growing burden on humans, animals and the water, soil and air we need to exist,” said Senator Allen, who chairs the California Legislature’s Environmental Caucus and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “We knew we had to act. And in this time of extreme polarization in our country, California was able to show that we can pass strong environmental legislation with bipartisan support that brought together the environmental and business communities.
The legislation, also known as the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, calls on producers of specific materials (including single-use packaging and plastic catering items like drinking cups , bowls and disposable cutlery) to form a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to manage the industry’s efforts to comply with the requirements of the law. The Act goes beyond the standard requirement of other producer responsibility programs that simply cover costs. The new law includes environmental mandates through a rate and date system that will ensure all covered materials are recyclable or compostable within 10 years and calls for a 25% reduction in the amount of plastic-coated materials introduced on the market within the same period. . Additionally, the new law creates the California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund, which will dedicate $500 million annually over the next decade – paid for by industry – to fund plastic pollution monitoring and mitigation primarily in disadvantaged, low-income and rural communities. .
“This legislation is environmental justice in action. Our air, our water, the food we eat and our bodies have become polluted with plastic waste. This is a big step forward to help clean up our environment. I am proud of Senator Ben Allen for breaking through immense opposition so that something monumental was accomplished for all of us in California,” Santa Monica City Councilman Phil Brock told the Santa Monica Mirror.
Originally introduced in December 2018, the bill is the result of four years of negotiations between business and industry representatives, environmental organizations, subject matter experts and government officials. In final committee and floor votes last week, SB 54 garnered broad bipartisan support, passing a 29-0 margin. Supporters of a similar but less predictable statewide measure withdrew it from the November ballot just hours before the deadline to do so.
Local environmental organization Heal the Bay welcomed the legislation, saying it was an important step towards reducing single-use plastic in California. According to the Santa Monica-based nonprofit, during its beach cleanups, 80% of the millions of trash volunteers collect is made from single-use plastic.
“Heal the Bay envisions a solution that takes us completely away from single-use materials, especially plastics, and instead focuses on reuse and refill. Even though recycling is an important part of this process, we cannot recycle our output – nor can we use hazardous chemical recycling methods that remove plastics from our air. We will continue to press, alongside other environmental and community organizations and advocates, to ensure that the producer responsibility program established by SB 54 prioritizes reuse and refill,” said Tracy Quinn, CEO and President of Heal the Bay.
While applauding the bill, Heal the Bay mentioned two areas where further restrictions could be imposed. First, it does not ban polystyrene outright, but rather sets recycling rates of 25% by 2025, with the material banned if that rate cannot be achieved. Second, it allows post-consumer recycled content (recycled plastic used in a new product) to count toward the source reduction target.