What to Know About California’s Landmark Plastics Law

Workers at Recology’s Recycle Central in 2018 in San Francisco.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California approved the most sweeping restrictions on plastics in the nation late last week, a move that will most likely reshape the way we shop and recycle over the next decade.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 54 on Thursday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. California’s new law, advocates say, provides another route for curbing carbon emissions and trying to sidestep the worst consequences of global warming.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels, and the plastics industry is expected to consume 20 percent of oil produced worldwide by 2050. And, as you may know, less than 10 percent of plastic gets recycled, instead ending up in landfills or the ocean.

“A lot of people don’t understand that our plastics crisis is our climate crisis,” Alexis Jackson, ocean policy and plastics lead at the Nature Conservancy, told me. “The beauty of this legislation is that it actually sets a blueprint that other states and nations can follow.”

Newsom signed the bill right at the deadline to avoid a fall ballot initiative that would have had similar requirements. The legislation gives plastics makers an extra two years to comply, among other differences. As has happened before in the State Capitol, the threat of an outside initiative was enough to bring industry groups to the table to negotiate the deal.

Today I’ll break down what you need to know about the new law:

What exactly does the law mandate?

The 50-plus-page legislation aims to reduce the amount of plastic created and increase recycling rates in California. Here are some of the key tenets:

  • By 2032, plastic producers must reduce the amount of plastic in packaging by 25 percent. Those products include things like shampoo bottles, food wrappers, takeaway cups and bubble wrap.

    The reduction can be achieved in multiple ways: reducing package sizing, switching to a different material or making the products reusable.

  • All single-use packaging, including paper and metals, has to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. The law also mandates that California raise its recycling rate for all plastic products to 65 percent by 2032.

  • The law shifts the costs of recycling infrastructure, recycling plants, and collection and sorting facilities to packaging manufacturers and away from taxpayers, who currently foot the bill.

    As my colleague Winston Choi-Schagrin reported, Maine and Oregon were the first in the country to pass such requirements, known as producer-responsibility laws.

  • Plastics manufacturers must pay $5 billion into a fund over the next 10 years that would mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on the environment and human health, primarily in low-income communities.

What effect is the law expected to have?

Any reduction in plastics creation will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as the amount of waste ending up in landfills. The Ocean Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit group that helped draft California’s law, estimated the legislation would eliminate 23 million tons of plastic in the next 10 years.

“We know that to solve our plastic pollution crisis, we need to make less plastic and reuse more of the plastic we do have,” Anja Brandon, a policy analyst at the Ocean Conservancy, told The Times. “This is the first bill in the country to tackle both issues.”

Plus, because of California’s size, the law could have ripple effects.

“Manufacturers don’t make packaging for a single state,” Dylan de Thomas, head of the policy team at the Recycling Partnership, told The Times. “They will make packaging recyclable elsewhere too, and you are going to have a stronger recycling system.”

Are there other places with similar laws?

India announced a ban on single-use plastics on Friday. A few weeks prior, Canada moved to prohibit the manufacture and import of single-use plastics.

Also last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it would phase out the sale of single-use plastic products in national parks and other public lands by 2032.

California isn’t banning single-use plastic products outright, instead requiring that they be recyclable and contain less plastic. But the scope of the state’s law — and its many, many parts — makes it “a huge deal,” Jackson, of the Nature Conservancy, said.

“We did something that the world thought was impossible,” she told me. “There is no such thing as a perfect policy, but I think this bill still goes farther than any plastics policy we’ve seen.”

For more:

  • Trash or recycling? Why plastic keeps us guessing.

  • The Supreme Court ruling didn’t touch the power of the states. That’s put renewed focus on efforts across the country to limit reliance on power plants, The Associated Press reports.

  • The ocean’s biggest garbage pile is full of floating life.

Gov. Gavin Newsom.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

The rest of the news

  • Fighting Florida: In a move sure to stoke speculation of a presidential run, Newsom is airing his latest TV ad in Florida. “Join us in California, where we still believe in freedom,” he says in the ad. Read more from The Associated Press.

  • New Covid shots: The government has greenlit new vaccines to defend against the latest Omicron variants. But will they be too late?

  • L.G.B.T.Q. communities: Why “gayborhoods” in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major cities are losing L.G.B.T.Q. residents.

  • Prostitution law: Newsom signed a law that will stop the police from arresting people for loitering for prostitution, The Associated Press reports.

  • Pardon: The governor pardoned an inmate who received a life sentence when she was a teenager for killing her former pimp, The Associated Press reports.


  • Crumbling Del Mar bluffs: California will provide $300 million to help relocate train tracks along a stretch of eroding seaside cliffs near San Diego, The Associated Press reports.


  • Wildfire recovery: Newsom proclaimed states of emergency in Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties to help the process of recovery from recent wildfires, The Associated Press reports.


  • Nightclub shooting: A shooting occurred outside a Sacramento nightclub early Monday morning, killing one and injuring four others, The Sacramento Bee reports.

  • Men missing: Three men are missing and are presumed dead after they swam out in an attempt to rescue a child caught in a river current in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, The Associated Press reports. The boy was rescued and not hurt.

  • Fire: Firefighters are battling a wildfire that broke out Monday in Amador County and forced a number of evacuations, The Associated Press reports.

Pescado Frito going out to a guest at Angry Egret Dinette.Credit…Cody James for The New York Times

What we’re eating

At Angry Egret Dinette in Los Angeles, ambitious food with freewheeling charm and unfussy service.

Giraffes at Safari West in Santa Rosa in 2019.Credit…Photo by Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Muriel Kaplan, who recommends a safari park in Sonoma County:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Eggslut in Los Angeles.Credit…Oriana Koren for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

California is having a culinary moment across the Atlantic.

In London, every month seems to bring a new restaurant, chef or menu imported from Los Angeles or San Francisco, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The Los Angeles cooks Nancy Silverton of Mozza and Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market recently opened locations in London. Eggslut, which began as a food truck, now has three cafes in London. A restaurant in the city’s financial district lures patrons with two words — Malibu Kitchen — before offering “superfood salads, cured fish and meat, and plant-based dishes.”

Victor Garvey, head chef and owner of London restaurant SOLA, told The Times: “Californian food is an ethos.” A Michelin-starred restaurant in the city’s Soho neighborhood, SOLA serves wine from Sonoma County and ice cream flavored with pistachios from the San Joaquin Valley.

“A brightness, lightness and freshness,” Garvey said. “We want to bring that to Europe.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Relationship term of endearment (4 letters).

Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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