Insights / Sustainability

California Regulation to Restrict Recyclability Claims on Packaging

The law may require the removal of the chasing arrows symbol from some plastic packaging.

Resin identification code for polypropylene on packaging

Passed in 2021, a California law (SB 343) prohibits the use of false or misleading recycling labeling or marketing claims, such as the chasing arrows symbol or any other indicator of recyclability, unless the product or packaging is considered “recyclable” under certain statewide recyclability criteria (Source: CalRecycle).

Recyclable Criteria

A product or packaging is considered recyclable in the state if it meets the following criteria:

·       The material type and form are collected for recycling by recycling programs for jurisdictions that collectively encompass at least 60% of the state's population.

·       The material type and form are sorted into defined streams for recycling processes by large-volume transfer or processing facilities (as defined in Section 43020) that process materials and collectively serve at least 60% of recycling programs statewide, with the defined streams sent to and reclaimed at a reclaiming facility consistent with the requirements of the Basel Convention.

A product or packaging shall not be considered recyclable in the state if any of the following criteria occur (as applicable):

·       For plastic packaging, the container includes any components, inks, adhesives, or labels that prevent the recyclability of the packaging, according to the APR Design Guide published by the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

·       For plastic products and non-plastic products and packaging, the product or packaging is not designed to ensure recyclability and includes any components, inks, adhesives, or labels that prevent the recyclability of the product or packaging.

·       The product or packaging is made from plastic or fiber containing per- or poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS that meets the following criteria:

o  PFAS has been intentionally added to the product or packaging or has a technical effect caused by the added chemicals

o  PFAS measures at or above 100 parts per million (as measured in total organic fluorine)

·       The product or packaging contains an intentionally added chemical identified under the regulations implementing subparagraph (4) of subdivision (g) of Section 42370.2.

In addition to the criteria outlined above, a product or packaging is recyclable if:

·       The product or packaging has a demonstrated recycling rate in California of at least 75%, meaning that not less than 75% of the product or packaging sorted and aggregated in the state is reprocessed into new products or packaging.

·       For non-curbside collected items (e.g., plastic film collected at stores) before January 1, 2030, collection programs must recover and recycle at least 60% of the product or packaging and the material has sufficient commercial value to be transported to a recycling facility to be aggregated into defined recycling streams.

·       For non-curbside collected items after January 1, 2030, collection programs must recover and recycle at least 75% of the product or packaging and the material has sufficient commercial value to be transported to a recycling facility to be aggregated into defined recycling streams.

Regulatory Timeline

On December 28, 2023, CalRecycle (California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) posted the preliminary findings report of its material characterization study identifying which packaging materials are commonly collected, sorted, sold, or transferred for recycling in the state and become feedstock for the production of new products and packaging.

California legislative action

In a separate but related report to the state legislature on the Recyclability Status of Covered Material Categories (CMCs), CalRecycle determined that 37 out of 98 CMCs (38%) met the state's recyclable criteria, including most types of glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper, and rigid plastics — PET, HDPE, and PP. The report also noted that these 37 CMCs “generally consist of materials that have established and robust recyclable material markets, meaning that processors have a buyer for the recycled-content feedstock they produce.”

According to a January 2, 2024, analysis by law firm Steptoe LLC, “these [recyclability] requirements [SB 343] stand in contrast to the requirements outlined in the current iteration of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) so-called Green Guides, which impose a somewhat lower standard for making recyclable claims. In addition, these requirements stand in potential conflict with requirements imposed under the laws of dozens of other states, which require the use of RICs [resin identification codes] with the surrounding chasing arrows for certain packaging materials.”

CalRecycle will hold a public workshop on February 13, 2024, to present the findings of the preliminary report to the public and to solicit feedback. The public can comment on the report at the workshop or via email to The deadline to submit comments is February 29, 2024.

CalRecycle will publish the final findings report within 60 days of the public workshop. This report will include a list of materials and forms of products or packaging that are eligible to be labeled as recyclable in California. Manufacturers will have up to 18 months from the posting of the final report to comply with the requirements of SB 343.

SB 343 also requires ongoing studies to be performed by CalRecycle to update the statewide materials characterization analysis, as needed. The second study will be completed by 2027, with future studies every five years after that.

Chasing Arrows Symbol History

The chasing arrows symbol or universal recycling symbol was created in 1970 for the first Earth Day by a college student who won an art contest for its design. A corrugated box manufacturer sponsored the competition. With multiple variations over the years, the familiar triangular logo is not trademarked and is in the public domain.

Resin identification codes

In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry developed the resin identification code (1 for PET, 2 for HDPE, 3 for PVC, and so on) and used the number codes with the chasing arrows symbol to help public recyclers sort plastic containers.

Since 2008, ASTM International has overseen the resin identification coding (RIC) system. In 2013, the RIC symbol was updated to include the resin number inside the triangular logo with an abbreviation for the resin type shown below the symbol.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for a review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney. It is the customer's responsibility to determine whether its filled product is subject to any applicable government regulations and to ensure compliance with such regulations.

Robert Swinetek

By: Robert Swientek
Date: September 7, 2023
Updated: January 29, 2024

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