A California's Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act (SB 54) Explainer - Last Updated: July 12, 2022

What is the California's Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act (SB 54)?

In 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law into effect that impacts any business that uses or sells single-use plastic. If it achieves its goals, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act (SB 54) could help eliminate approximately 23 million tons of single-use plastics throughout the next 10 years. It’s considered the most comprehensive and ambitious plastic reduction law in the United States to date.

If your company's involved or impacted by the plastics supply chain in Calfiornia, here's what you need to know about SB 54, as well as key takeaways for your environmental compliance strategy.

The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act:

  • Targets a 25% reduction in single-use plastic packaging and foodware products in California by 2032
  • Requires at least 30% of plastic products sold, distributed, or imported into the state must be recyclable or compostable by 2028. By 2032, that percentage rises to 65%.
  • Transitions financial responsibility from taxpayer communities to the plastic industry. This means plastics manufacturers and retailers will now bear the costs of plastic pollution prevention, including recycling plants and sorting facilities.
  • Establishes the California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund (CPPMF), which requires plastic producers to collectively raise $5 billion over ten years beginning in 2027 as an environmental and health mitigation surcharge. This money will go into communities most affected by toxic plastic pollution.
  • Sets an “administrative civil penalty” of up to $50,000 per day per violation for any manufacturer that fails to comply.
  • Plastics producers must join a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) with an approved plan by California’s waste management agency, CalRecycle, by January 1, 2024 detailing how they’ll comply with the Act
CA Plastic Pollution Reduction Law - SB54

Plastic polution has many negative human and environmental impacts, including microplastics contamination in foods, and major harm to oceans and aquatic wildlife

When does SB54 take effect?

The law went into effect June 30, 2022. This gives the plastics industry roughly 10 years to comply with its full requirements if they want to sell, import, or distribute in the world’s fifth largest economy. Companies have six years to achieve the 'at least 30% of plastic from recycled or composted materials' requirement.

Who's impacted by California's new plastic pollution laws?

While California already has laws aimed at reducing plastic pollution, SB 54 directly targets the following groups:

  • Manufacturers of single-use packaging or plastic single-use foodware
  • Sellers of all goods sold in California, which means nearly any consumer products company with single-use packaging or foodware
  • Retailers or wholesalers that sell single-use packaging or plastic single-use foodware (like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, etc.)

More broadly, local recycling programs will also require recycling services providers to provide certain information about plastic waste to CalRecycle. This includes:

  • Exporters, brokers, self-haulers, and transporters of recyclables or compost
  • Disposal facility operators
  • Organizations that provide solid waste collection services
  • Recycling facilities that receive recyclable material for mechanical or manual sorting
  • Solid waste companies that provide solid waste handling services for local governments

If your organization falls under any of these categories, there are several ways you can stay, or become, compliant.

How do I stay compliant with California plastic laws and targets?

Since the new law requires the plastics industry to both make less plastic and to ensure that all single-use products are recyclable or compostable, it’s important to understand what needs to be prioritized.

Let’s quickly break down two important terms, as defined by the SB 54:

  • Single-use [plastic] packaging - This is material that must be recycled, disposed of, or discarded after the product’s been used or unpackaged (and is usually not refilled or reused)
  • Foodware products - This includes (1) plastic-coated paper or plastic-coated paperboard, (2) paper or paperboard with plastic intentionally added during the manufacturing process, and (3) multilayer flexible material. These include trays, plates, bowls, clamshells, lids, cups, utensils, stirrers, hinged or lidded containers, and straws as well as wraps or wrappers and bags sold to food service establishments

Staying compliant is a two step process:

  1. The first requires that organizations make product or packaging related changes. This is the "reduce" principle. Reducing plastic pollution can come from reducing packaging size, switching to different biodegradable or compostable raw materials like Polylactic acid (PLA) or corn plastic, or making products reusable.
  2. After reduce comes "re-use." This could entail setting up refill stations, end-of-life takeback programs, or other circularity approaches with consumer goods like shampoo, laundry detergent, and bottled beverages that extend the lifespan of an existing product that contains plastic
  3. The third principle is report. Plastic-oriented companies doing business in California will need to track and report plastic usage as part of their ongoing sustainability reporting. Not only will plastic producers need to work out a plan on how they’ll meet the requirements, they will also have to report yearly progress that includes tracking annual sales, recycling, composting, and source reduction data.

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Your next steps With CA plastics compliance

For organizations in the early stages of their sustainability reporting and plastic reduction journey, we have a few general recommendations, additional reading, and suggested next steps:

Materiality assessment - Before collecting any data, you need to audit your company's role in the plastics supply chain and conduct a “Materiality Assessment” to determine the most material environmental impacts from your business. A materiality assessment is a project which determines and ranks the most material themes for your business based on market data, regulatory analysis, stakeholder interviews, and surveys. For example, a restaurant might focus on food waste, eliminating plastic bottles, GHG emissions from food deliveries, and reducing energy usage from operations. A retailer might prioritize replacing plastic products in the context of its broader sustainability and products strategy. Pick and rank the right sustainability themes depending on your organization’s mission, sector, model, and ESG maturity.

Sustainability data systems and process - While this might go without saying, in order to report your organization's sustainability performance and plastic usage, you need to know what it is - with a high degree of accuracy. Your materiality process can help guide you toward the main sustainability themes you may need to focus on and collect data around. Is it plastic you're selling? Plastic materials from suppliers? Where does that data exist today, and how will you access or collect it?

Many organizations start their sustainability reporting and tracking with relatively simple spreadsheets, surveys, and documents, but things can get complex fast - particularly for larger companies. If you're an organization with a medium-to-large or complex environmental footprint, you likely need dedicated sustainability reporting and data management software, like the kind we design here at Brightest to help organizations stay compliant. Ongoing report archiving, version control, and governance are also important to think about, since you'll be reporting every year.

Further reading - Our free guides to sustainability measurement and ESG reporting provide additional, detailed guidance and insights on how to measure and report your sustainability performance.