Landmark single-use plastics bill to set new recycling and reduction rules

Jul 20, 2022

California cities will be at the forefront of another landmark recycling program over the next decade following the passage of SB 54 (Allen). The sweeping single-use plastics and packaging recycling bill was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom after four years of intense negotiations.

The League of California Cities, along with other local government associations, played a critical role in ensuring the bill’s success and that new costs will not be borne by cities or their residents.

Light at the end of the blue bin tunnel

First introduced in 2018, SB 54 was a compromise bill that brought together local governments, waste haulers, environmental organizations, and business groups to address the increasing fiscal and environmental costs associated with recycling single-use plastic products and packaging.

The bill establishes a product responsibility organization for single-use plastic products and packaging. Operated by plastic manufacturers, the organization will set recyclability and compostability standards for certain types of plastic products and packaging, which will go into effect by 2032. This includes household products like single-use plastic silverware, to-go cups, and takeout boxes.

This model — also known as an “extended producer responsibility” model — is designed to make companies who produce a product responsible for that product’s ultimate disposal.

The measure also requires the product responsibility organization to reimburse local governments for any new costs they incur during implementation. This key requirement will shift the cost of recycling away from ratepayers and toward the products’ manufacturers. Local governments will not be responsible for the costs associated with enacting this bill.

SB 54 also includes several accountability measures, such as the creation of an advisory board within the product responsibility organization. The advisory board will be made up of local recycling experts, including members of local government, who will provide input and technical assistance.

The product responsibility organization and the advisory board will develop a dispute resolution process explaining how problems between the product responsibility organization and local governments can be solved. The resolution process must be approved by CalRecycle, which will also conduct regular compliance audits.

Four years of talking trash not wasted

When Sen. Ben Allen introduced the bill, Cal Cities, along with the California State Association of Counties and the Rural County Representatives of California, quickly moved to support the measure.

From the beginning, Sen. Allen and his staff worked alongside local government associations to ensure that the cost of recycling would not be borne solely by cities or their residents. This strong partnership strengthened over the years, with Cal Cities lobbyists providing lead support testimony for the bill in three different years and in multiple committees.

After three failed attempts to pass SB 54 and the looming threat of a related ballot measure, Sen. Allen and his staff convened a small working group of stakeholders to meet weekly — sometimes more than weekly — to craft a compromise proposal. This allowed Cal Cities and county associations to make sure that SB 54 would work for local governments and their residents.

Recycling the old recycling system

Now that SB 54 is law, local governments will have the next decade to focus on the implementation process. However, there is still much work that needs to be done before that process can begin. City engagement will be critical to the success of early conversations about the structure of the product responsibility organization and related regulations from CalRecycle.

As the 2022 legislative year draws to a close, cities also can expect additional “cleanup” legislation that makes slight tweaks to SB 54 and finalizes any remaining details. Cal Cities will continue to monitor SB 54 and provide any important updates.   

For more information, please contact Legislative Affairs Lobbyist Derek Dolfie.