Lawmakers in California approved a bill to ensure the ubiquitous recycling symbol labelled on plastic and packaging products are truthful and accurate. 

California lawmakers in the state Senate have passed a recycling labelling bill that will impose protections against items and products falsely claiming to be recyclable, when in fact they are not and should go to landfills. The bill has been sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom for final approval and must be signed before October 10 for it to come into effect

The new bill aims to rid any confusion regarding plastic and packaging recycling in the state, divert 75% of the state’s trash from landfills, as well as increase recycling efforts in general. Should it come into force, the new rule “will reduce contamination in the recycling stream and improve the sorting process, thereby saving cities and ratepayers money while empowering consumers to make more informed decisions.” author of the bill, Senator Ben Allen, said in a statement. 

A majority of plastic products are printed with a recycling symbol featuring three chasing arrows forming a triangle. And most consumers assume that the symbol means that particular item could be recycled, or even made with recycled materials, according to a 2019 study by the Consumer Brand Association  When in reality, the symbol simply identifies the type of plastic resin used in the product. Advocacy groups have been pushing for the symbol to only appear on items that are actually recyclable and not cause contamination. 

“Consumers want to recycle correctly, which is why they dutifully look at labels and place everything with a chasing arrows symbol into the recycling bin – even products that will just get sorted back out and disposed into a landfill,” National Stewardship Action Council executive director Heidi Sanborn said in a statement.

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Under the new legislation, the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, also known as Cal Recycle, is required to publish information to the public before January 1, 2024 on whether a product or packaging is recyclable, and what material types and forms are actively recovered and not considered contaminants by the operation or facility. 

Corporations would also be restricted from using the word “recyclable” or placing the recycling symbol on products made with materials that are not recycled at a rate of 75% or higher. Under current advertising regulations, companies in California are already prevented from using words like “compostable” or “biodegradable” without evidence. The new measure could prevent more greenwashing from big companies and corporations. 

However, there are considerable critics of the bill, especially from plastics and packaging industry groups including the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association and American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN), claiming that the new restrictions would create even more confusion for consumers and “cause more items to go to landfills”.