2023 Input to California Consumer Plastic Recycling Survey for SB343 Truth-in-Labeling Law
As described on CalRecycle's website, California Law SB343 prohibits use of the chasing arrows or any other indicator of recyclability on products and packaging unless certain criteria are met. Key requirements of the law include:
COLLECTION: The product "is collected for recycling by recycling programs for jurisdictions that collectively encompass at least 60 percent of the population of the state."
SORTATION: The product "is sorted into defined streams for recycling processes."
RECYCLING/RECLAIMING: "The defined streams (are) sent to and reclaimed at a reclaiming facility consistent with the requirements of the Basel Convention." The product must "be made of a material type and form that routinely becomes feedstock used in the production of new products or packaging."
In 2021, as part of the California Statewide Commission on Recycling and End Markets, The Last Beach Cleanup performed a comprehensive assessment for products and packaging to determine "What is Recyclable" in California. The criteria also included 60% collection, sortation, and recycling/reclaiming capacity. The 2021 survey showed that only three types of plastic items met the criteria: PET#1 bottles, HDPE#2 natural bottles, and HDPE#2 colored bottles.
The purpose of this citizen science survey is to provide updated data on the key criteria that will be used to determine recyclability under SB343. Traceable links to the sources of the data are provided. The information has been peer-reviewed by waste and recycling experts. Submission of new data and revisions to referenced data are welcomed. Please send information to email@example.com
Assessment is visible on laptop screens only.
Is the item worth collecting, sorting & processing into a new product? Does it have sufficient value?
Which Consumer Plastic Items are Recyclable in California per SB343 Requirements?
High: 100% Collection
No Sortation of Plastic Cutlery into Bales
Survey of Acceptance of Plastic Items by CA Residential Material Recovery Facilities
Collection of plastic waste is the first step in the recycling process. A comprehensive survey of California's 73 Residential Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) was performed to determine which plastic waste items are accepted for collection. "Dirty MRFs" are not included because they accept all types of trash.
Survey of Plastic Waste Sortation by California's 73 MRFs
After collection, MRFs separate materials into bales based on demand by plastic waste reclaimers/processors. Across the U.S. and in California, MRFs typically only create sorted bales of PET #1 bottles and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs because there is only strong end market demand for those items. Prior to the 2018 start of China's National Sword law prohibiting imports of plastic waste, bales of "mixed plastic wastes" were commonly sent from CA MRFs to China. As described here, "most West Coast materials recovery facilities (MRFs) are not equipped to sort plastics beyond PET and HDPE bottles." PP#5 rigids account for only 5% of plastic waste, making sortation not cost effective.
Through the Recycling and Disposal Reporting System (RDRS), CalRecycle collects quarterly data from MRFs and other waste handling facilities on the number of facilities who created sorted bales of waste by type. The amount of sorted waste created is also reported. The data is accesible through public records requests from CalRecycle. Most recent data available for two items of specific interest is shown below. The total waste rates are scaled for California from the most recent U.S. EPA national plastic waste data (2018).
Survey of 2023 Western U.S. Post-Consumer Plastic Waste Processors
Plastic waste reclaimers/processors for each type of plastic waste are required in order for an item to be "recyclable" in California. Collection and sortation of plastic waste are only the first two steps in the recycling process. If facilities do not exist to process the collected and sorted plastic waste into recycled materials, then the plastic cannot be recycled into new products and the plastic waste is not "recyclable."
A survey of plastic waste recyclers in the Western U.S. was performed to identify facilities that reclaim bales of sorted household plastic wastes from CA MRFs. Only facilities that employ recycling processes, as defined by California Law, are included. The survey was restricted to the Western U.S. because transportation costs to the Eastern U.S. are cost-prohibitive.
Note that the fraction of California PP5 rigid plastic waste sorted is very small at about 2.3%. The sortation data is reported to CalRecycle by MRFs who may not continuously sort PP5 waste into bales, but may only occasionally create a bale of sorted waste.
California Exports of Plastic Waste Must Stop
Many California MRFs collect plastic waste from households and export it to other countries because there are no buyers in the U.S. As described on our exports webpage, there are significant social and environmental harms caused by plastic waste exports. Many studies have proven that much of the exported plastic waste is not recycled, but is dumped or burned, creating plastic pollution and health impacts. Exports of plastic waste are not "responsible end markets" and should not count to meet SB343 or SB54 requirements.
In 2022, California exported 29,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste to Non-OECD countries and 43,875 metric tonnes of plastic waste to Mexico.
Is the item collected by MRFs serving at least 60% of Californians?
DATA SOURCE: Plastic Acceptance at Material Recovery Facilities in California
Is the item sorted into single product bales by MRFs serving at least 60% of Californians?
DATA SOURCE: CalRecycle RDRS Survey of MRF Bale Sorting
3. RECLAIMING CAPACITY & RESPONSIBLE END MARKETS
Are there enough production facilities in California's region with equipment to recycle 60% of the plastic prduct waste into new products?
DATA SOURCE: Plastic Waste Processors in California & Western U.S.