United States: California Legislature Narrows Legislation To Now Regulate Single-Use Packaging And "Most Littered" Single-Use Plastic Products

Update—May 22 Amendments

The California Assembly and Senate recently amended a pair of identical bills, SB 54 (Senator Ben Allen - D), and AB 1080 (Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez - D), which would impose far-reaching regulation of single-use consumer product packaging and the top 10 most littered plastic consumer products in California (priority single-use plastic products). The bills, which previously covered all single-use consumer products, were amended on May 22, 2019 to narrow the scope of products covered and require the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to adopt implementing regulations on or before January 1, 2023.

The implementing regulations will mandate that:

(1) single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products are source reduced to reusable packaging and products "to the greatest extent feasible," and

(2) all single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products in the California market are recyclable or compostable.

Taking a step-wise approach, the bills would require a manufacturer of single-use plastic packaging or priority single-use plastic products to demonstrate a recycling rate of not less than 20% on and after January 1, 2024, and not less than 40% on and after January 1, 2028, as a condition of sale, and would authorize CalRecycle to impose a higher recycling rate as a condition of sale.

These bills bring into focus the state's far-reaching consumer product recycling goals: former Governor Jerry Brown set a goal of 75% recycling of solid waste by 2020, directing CalRecycle to take a statewide approach to decrease California's reliance on landfills. According to an August 2017 CalRecycle report, total recycling rates in California fell to 44% in 2016, which is the lowest rate since the 75% statewide goal was established in 2011.1 Approximately 35.2 million tons of garbage were dumped into municipal solid waste landfills or exported in 2016, an increase from 29.3 million tons in 2012.2 And, achieving existing recycling goals appears even less attainable, as both China and India have imposed bans on imports of material to be recycled, leaving the US with limited outlets to send recyclable materials.3

Amended Law Would Target Single-Use Packaging and Priority Single-Use Plastic Products

The amended bills narrow the still expansive scope of products and packaging that would fall within the scope of the regulation. Although "single-use packaging" remains undefined, the amendments provide guidance for the definition of "priority single-use plastic products"—the top "10 single-use plastic products that are the most littered in California, as determined by CalRecycle based on litter surveys conducted in California between 2017 and 2020." As part of its implementing regulations, CalRecycle would determine which packaging shall be considered "single-use" and thus subject to the mandates. The only products expressly exempt from the scope of the bills are medical devices and products that are required to be sterile, prescription medicine, and the packaging used for such products. In addition, the amended bills permit CalRecycle to identify single-use packaging or single-use plastic products that, while determined to be single use, "present unique challenges in complying" with the proposed law, and therefore CalRecycle will develop a plan to phase the packaging or product into the regulations at a later date.

Single-use plastics are a recycling target because many plastic products are not currently recyclable and often end up in the natural environment. The Legislature estimates that only 15% of single-use plastic is recycled in California, and state and local governments, therefore, have increasingly attempted to minimize the presence of plastics in food service and other facilities to reduce this waste stream.

Proposed Law Would Delegate Expansive Authority to CalRecycle

AB 1080 and SB 54 contain few details and require CalRecycle to develop regulations to achieve the specified mandates. Prior to adopting the regulation, however, CalRecycle would adopt a "scoping plan" to evaluate the feasibility of establishing new labeling requirements regarding the recyclability or compostability of priority single-use products and packaging, minimum postconsumer recycled content requirements for single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products, an extended producer responsibility (EPR) program to require manufacturers and retailers to contribute to the costs associated with processing the single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products they produce, and other measures. The amended bills require that the scoping plan include "extensive outreach to stakeholders," including public workshops and stakeholder meetings.

After the scoping plan is complete, on or before January 1, 2023, CalRecycle would be required to adopt regulations to determine which types of packaging are considered "single-use" and thus subject to the regulation. CalRecycle would also be required to identify the top 10 single-use plastic products that are the most littered in California; however, this category is defined under the bills and will be determined by CalRecycle based on the results of recent litter studies.

Complex Application & Broad-Reaching Impacts

By including all single-use packaging and the top 10 littered single-use plastic products, the bills represent some of the most comprehensive and far-reaching legislation to regulate consumer product packaging in California. Further, they delegate unprecedented authority to CalRecycle to regulate single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products to achieve the source reduction and recyclability mandates in the bills.

The proposed bills would have two main impacts. First, the bills would require a significant, immediate increase in recycling by the state, and the state—along with local municipalities and counties—would need to determine where and how to process the increase in recycled materials. Second, the bills would impact virtually all manufacturers distributing or selling any single-use packaging or priority single-use plastic product in California, reaching far beyond prior California laws such as the 1991 Rigid Plastic Packaging Container law. The true impact of the bills would be unknown until CalRecycle drafts implementing regulations, but they clearly will impose significant source reduction and recyclability mandates on manufacturers of single-use packaging and priority single-use plastic products within a short timeframe.

Notably, the bills would require manufacturers to meet extremely high recycling thresholds, but the bills fail to address the infrastructure needed to handle this material domestically. A Department of Finance analysis of SB 1383 (Lara; Chapter 395), which focused solely on organic wastes, indicated the state had to more than double organic waste collection and recycling infrastructure and capacity in less than 10 years to meet the requirements of the bill, costing upward of $20.9 billion. The universe of packaging and products impacted by these bills dwarfs the organics sector, and California has nowhere near the level of infrastructure that is necessary for manufacturers to meet their compliance obligations.

The complexity of the proposed law should be emphasized as well. For example, the impact on manufacturers would translate to a material impact on retailers. Manufacturers work with retail stores on a semi-annual or quarterly basis to determine how their products fit into the stores' shelving planograms. If manufacturers are required to reformulate their packing and design, the repackaging could have a resulting impact on the size and presentation of their products. This, in turn, would impact where the product could be displayed in a retail store, which would need to be implemented in concert with an updated planogram for each store. And because consumer products are shipped and warehoused in cases and pallets, changes in individual unit packaging create a cascade of effects throughout the distribution chain.

Beyond California—Broader Policy Implications

The reach of the proposed bills would not be limited to California because product and packaging manufacturers sending priority single-use plastic products and packaging into the state—the fifth largest economy in the world—would be subject to the mandates, regardless of where the product or packaging is manufactured. It is therefore likely that products and packaging will be redesigned for the entire US market, if not the global market. California is not alone in the single-use battle, although other states have focused exclusively on single-use plastics rather than single-use packaging more generally. At the beginning of April 2019, New York announced that the state legislature approved a ban on single-use plastic bags, effective March 1, 2020, making New York the second state in the country to pass such a ban, after California. And in the European Union, the EU Parliament recently voted to ban single-use plastic products for which alternatives exist on the market by the year 2021.

More to Come in the Single-Use Saga

The California Legislature is poised to push forward these amended bills, whether in their current or revised form. The Senate and Assembly passed each bill in their respective houses on May 30, 2019. The deadline for the bills to pass in the second house, either the Senate or Assembly depending on the house of origination, is September 13, 2019. If passed, the bills would land on the Governor's desk to be signed or vetoed within 30 days, by October 13, 2019. If the bills fail passage this year, because California is in the first of the two-year legislative session, the bills may resume where they left off in the process during the next legislative session.

Although narrowed in scope by the May amendments to eliminate the regulations of single-use consumer products more generally, these bills still represent some of the most far-reaching and significant regulations of consumer products and packaging ever in California. From a consumer product standpoint, the bills have been largely narrowed by the amendments to the top 10 most littered plastic products, but from a packaging standpoint, the bills still seek to regulate all single-use consumer product packaging broadly delegate regulatory authority to CalRecycle. Importantly, there is no identified funding mechanism in the proposed bills, which means the proponents will need to seek a budget request, or (in the more likely scenario) CalRecycle would be given the authority to impose a fee on regulated entities to cover costs.


1.California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, State of Disposal and Recycling in California – 2017 Update, Publication # DRRR-2017-01612, at 1 (Aug. 2017)(hereinafter CalRecycle Report). This figure was calculated in relation to waste generation per resident per day and measures all disposal-related activity.

2. Id. at 5.

3. "Local recycling programs rely on foreign countries' willingness to import recyclable materials." Letter from Alameda County to Governor Gavin Newsom RE: Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets (Draft) (Feb. 5, 2019).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions