A sweeping plastic pollution bill has passed in California. The SB-54 bill has proponents and critics of the bill discussing how the bill might impact consumers. Producers and distributors of plastics are intended to bear the burden of the mandates laid out in SB-54. We're breaking down how consumers can expect to see SB-54 unfold.
The SB-54 Bill
Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-54 into California law in June of 2022. The SB-54 bill, also known as the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Producer Responsibility Act, is a piece of legislation targeting plastic waste and production.
The bill has been in the making for a few years, finally passing in 2022 just days after the United States Supreme Court voted to block the federal government's oversight to reduce pollution and tackle climate change mitigations.
SB-54 is the first bill in California to pass that completely overhauls the plastic industry and waste system with an aim to create a more circular waste economy funded by producers rather than citizens and municipalities. The bill goes further than any other states' extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation.
What Does SB-54 Mandate?
Mandates in SB-54 focus on the regression of current plastic production. Producers of plastics are required to reduce the number of plastics in their packaging options by 30 percent by 2028, 40 percent by 2030, and 65 percent by 2032. Such requirements will force producers to change the designs and composition of their products.
All packaging in California under SB-54 must also be fully recyclable or compostable by 2032. California currently recycles an average of 5-9 percent of plastic waste per year. Under the SB-52 legislation, goals for the state are as follows:
30 percent of plastics will be recycled by 2028
40 percent of plastics will be recycled by 2030
65 percent of plastics will be recycled by 2032
To generate such ambitious results, California will be using funds collected by producers to revamp recycling and composting systems across the state.
Critics of SB-54 claim that the bill will increase the costs of consumer goods substantially. Packaging producers will increase the costs of their products to offset the costs needed to generate new packaging standards for compliance, according to critics. This will result in hidden costs or taxes to minimize any market losses expected by plastic producers.
While SB-54 is in its infancy in terms of implementation, any costs to consumers remain to be seen. Consumers can, however, expect to change their waste disposal routines. Part of the SB-54 bill leans towards revamping California's recycling infrastructure. Infrastructure changes to current recycling and composting facilities are likely to require engagement from residents and consumers. Engagements may look like surveys to collect data.
Disadvantaged and low-income communities are expected to notice significant positive impacts from the bill. The SB-54 bill notes that low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution and inefficient waste streams. Producers are required to pay 500 million dollars per year for ten years beginning in 2027. These funds will be used to clean up communities experiencing the brunt of plastic pollution.
The SB-54 bill is expected to generate further legislation that is also likely to impact consumers.
In 2025, California stores will not be allowed to distribute single-use plastic bags to consumers. Thus, consumers will be required to bring their own bags or purchase paper or reusable bags within stores and other retailers.
Current rates of recycling and composting across the state are believed to be due to inaccessibility and confusion among consumers about what materials are acceptable for recycling or composting. The standardization under SB-54 to mandate fully recyclable or compostable materials by 2032 is believed to be a solution to the current sub-par recycling rates.
Within SB-54, language regarding reusability and refilling is briefly mentioned, and it is likely to be the main structure of further EPR bills. Producers are encouraged to create products or services that are accessible to consumers and can be reused or refilled multiple times. Examples include refill stations or retailers for basic goods, such as soaps, oils, cosmetics, and other products. Consumers should expect to notice this transition.
SB-54 requires plastic producers to change manufacturing operations to adhere to the environmental regulations within the bill.
Low-income and disadvantaged communities are expected to notice significant changes through SB-54 using generated funds.
Consumers may be impacted by further legislation inspired by SB-54 for environmental purposes.