Senator Glazer co-authors legislation to end consumer confusion over what is appropriate to place in blue bin
SACRAMENTO – Plastic producers would be encouraged to create environmentally friendly products under legislation that would prohibit mislabeling certain cheap and unrecyclable plastics as recyclable.
The bill, SB 343, co-authored by Senators Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa), would require that companies meet certain standards before being able to apply the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol on their products. The legislation outlines a list of the types and forms of plastic products and packaging that can be represented as recyclable.
“Californians are eager to do their part in recycling to keep our environment clean, but we must have clear standards on what can be labeled as recyclable so that our efforts don’t go to waste,” Senator Glazer said. “I’m glad to join with Senator Allen in taking this important step in improving our ability to recycle truly recyclable products.”
SB 343 is now eligible for a vote on the Senate floor after being approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.
The need for the legislation, Senator Glazer said, stems from the fact that many consumers buy certain products because they assume that any product with the “chasing arrows” symbol is recyclable and is made from 100 percent recycled materials. Often, the products are unrecyclable and gum up recycling machinery.
The measure expands the existing “Truth in Environmental Advertising” law that prohibits the use of the word “recyclable” on unrecyclable products. The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle, will determine which material is truly recyclable and publish a list of acceptable types on its website.
“When they see the recycling symbol on a product, they should feel confident throwing it into the recycling bin with the knowledge that the item actually has a good shot of getting recycled,” Senator Allen said. “Unfortunately, we know that so many products that have the chasing arrows recycling symbol printed on the product are not actually recyclable. As we build a united legislative effort to fix this problem in our recycling system, I am grateful for Senator Glazer’s support.”
SB 343 includes a process for producers of material that does not yet meet the criteria to submit a plan to CalRecycle that demonstrates a commitment to increasing the collection, sorting, and recycling of their material. If their plan is approved, they can continue to encourage consumers to put their material in blue recycle bins.
All too often, consumers fill their blue bins with items they believe are recyclable but aren’t. That contaminates the recycling stream, making it more costly to sort and clean the truly recyclable material. Manufacturers have used this confusion to their advantage by “greenwashing” unrecyclable products, often imprinting them with the “chasing-arrows” recycling symbol.
“Most people think that plastic products stamped with the common ‘chasing arrows’ symbol are recyclable, and they dutifully place their used plastics into the recycling bin,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “But these labels are misleading: many of these plastic items will end up in the landfill because they can’t actually be recycled. AB 343 tells the truth and only allows plastic manufacturers to use the chasing arrows symbol when their products are recyclable in most California communities.”
“Californians need to know what is truly recyclable,” Senator Glazer said. “This legislation will help sort that out.”
A 2018 study by CalRecycle found that plastic bags, films, and wraps were “the largest type of contamination in curbside recycling bins.” This flexible plastic material interferes with recycling facility machinery and, as a contaminant, increases the cost of producing recyclable paper and cardboard.
Further confusing consumers is the plastic resin identification coding (RIC) system, which classifies plastic types by numbers one through seven displayed within the chasing-arrows symbol. The RIC system was designed as a method for waste facilities to properly sort plastics. Most consumers simply see the chasing arrows and assume a product can be recycled.
The Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling recently reported, “Since consumers equate the ‘recycle’ word and symbol with what is accepted in curbside recycling bins, the ‘recycle’ word and symbol must be reserved for materials which are accepted in curbside bins and do not cause contamination.”
Glazer said his concerns about the environmental consequences of the disposal of plastics go beyond the issue of honest labeling of product packaging.
“Dealing with single-use plastics is among our most serious environmental challenges,” he said. “The plastics industry and those who use plastic in their packaging must step up and take responsibility for reducing the harm their products cause. If they don’t do it, the Legislature will be forced to take more aggressive action to solve this difficult problem.”