CA SB 54 Plastic Packaging Act: Three Questions Answered

Faced with the need to change materials, most companies have two worries: will it cost more? And will it work on my existing machines?

But thanks to California’s new law, SB 54, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, you better add a few more questions, including:

  • What will I need to do differently, and by when?
  • Where will the materials needed come from and how can I ensure sufficient supplies to serve my customers?
  • What investments should I make to retain current customers, gain new customers, or both?

What exactly is the SB 54?

According to an excellent synopsis (California Enacts EPR Law Aimed at Single-Use Plastic Packaging and Food Service Ware) by Jean-Cyril Walker and Alex Pecht of Washington, DC law firm Keller & Heckman, “The law establishes aggressive expanded liability (EPR) for single-use plastic packaging and single-use plastic foodservice items by requiring all covered materials sold or imported into California to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. The law also requires a reduction 25% of the use of plastic. by 2032 and a recycling rate of 65% of the remaining single-use plastic packaging by the same year.

What are the key specificities?

The law squarely requires brand owners to reduce single-use, non-recyclable packaging materials and increase recycling rates by up to 65%. Why 65%? I have often heard diverters such as Waste Management refer to this number as the upper limit for effective and financially efficient recycling activities.

According to the synopsis, the overarching goals per brand owner are:

  1. The overall amount of plastic packaging materials, including the number of products packaged in such materials in California, is reduced at source by 10% by January 1, 2027; 20% on January 1, 2030; and 25% on January 1, 2032.
  2. All packaging materials (plastics) are recyclable or state compostable by January 1, 2032.
  3. Recycling does not include combustion, incineration, power generation, fuel production (with some exceptions) or other forms of disposal.
  4. Recycling rates for all plastic packaging and catering equipment must reach the specified rate of 65% by January 1, 2032. Intermediate targets are 30% by January 1, 2028 and 50% by January 1, 2032. here on January 1, 2028.


Based on my review and interpretation, note the following:

  • Although not completely regulated, chemical recycling as generally defined by the industry will not be considered recycling unless the materials can be repolymerized for further use in packaging and catering applications.
  • There is no mention of recycled content. This is therefore an implicit expectation that can distort market dynamics both inside and outside of California itself.
    There is no mention of biopolymers and little regarding the definition of compostability. In my view, this will become an important area of ​​attention and discussion down the road.

What do you need to do.

  1. Obviously, your first action should be to immediately assess the size and value of your business in California.
  2. Assuming business matters, consider it a national mandate and work on national solutions.
  3. Work closely with your customers, suppliers, trade associations and legal advisors to determine which of your products meet California specifications today and will be eligible to do so within the next 10 years.
  4. Make sure you have the ability to prove the recyclability of the materials you use by working with the APR, FTC, and the State of California.
  5. Act now. Time flies and many target dates are fast approaching.

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved in sustainable packaging for 25 years, working as a marketing manager, consultant, strategic planner, editor, writer and communications expert. He is president of Robert Lilienfeld Consulting, working with material suppliers, processors, trade associations, retailers and brand owners. He is executive director at SPRING, the research, information and networking group on sustainable packaging. You can also write to him at [email protected] or visit his LinkedIn profile.