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California Begins Formal Rulemaking on Changes to its Recycling and Disposal System

On January 27, 2023, CalRecycle, the California agency that oversees the state's waste management, recycling, and waste reduction programs, published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) regarding amendments to the Recycling and Disposal Reporting System (RDRS). The proposed regulations are intended to update the state’s RDRS to better allow it to comply with various state recycling and disposal laws and objectives, including California law SB 343

As we reported here, SB 343 restricts recyclability claims by narrowing the universe of "consumer goods" and packaging considered "recyclable" in California. The law declares the use of the chasing arrows symbol, the chasing arrows symbol surrounding a resin identification code, or any other symbol or statement indicating recyclability to be deceptive or misleading unless the product or packaging is considered recyclable pursuant to statewide recyclability criteria to be developed by CalRecycle. In order to develop the recyclability criteria, SB 343 directed CalRecycle to revise regulations governing local waste and recycling facility reporting to include information on how all recycling material is collected and all material types and forms are actively recovered by each facility by January 1, 2024. Based on this information, CalRecycle must conduct and publish a characterization study of material types and forms that are collected, sorted, sold, or transferred by solid waste facilities and update this study every five years, beginning in 2027. 

Pursuant in part to this mandate, CalRecycle initiated this rulemaking to revise RDRS to collect information on what material types and forms are actively recovered by facilities and how that material was collected. CalRecycle also is proposing, in accordance with AB 881, to revise the RDRS to classify exports of mixed plastic waste as disposal if the mixed waste stream excludes the “more recyclable plastics: polyethylene terephthalate (resin code #1), high-density polyethylene (#2), and polypropylene (#5).”  

According to CalRecyle, the proposed regulations would:

  • Improve and increase the data in RDRS that can be used towards those waste and recycling goals
  • Correct obsolete references and citation changes and update references to the California Public Records Act 
  • Authorize RDRS to collect the jurisdiction of origin for exported mixed plastics for assignment of disposed tons as disposal to that jurisdiction of origin to comply with AB 881
  • Update RDRS to gather the collection method for the materials that are recovered as required by SB 343

CalRecycle claims that the new data collected pursuant to SB 343 “will provide information that will improve understanding of the recyclability of various products. Data associated with AB 881 will help CalRecycle more accurately assess disposal in the state. Likewise, improving the quality of existing datasets will help CalRecycle and local governments better devise strategies to achieve California’s waste management and recycling goals and mandates, such as reducing waste.”

CalRecycle will hold a hybrid public hearing regarding this rulemaking on March 15, 2023. Comments may be submitted to CalRecycle from January 27, 2023—March 15, 2023 (the comment period ends at the conclusion of the public hearing). The proposal raises a number of very important questions that implicate the recycling landscape in general and the landscape for plastic recycling in particular, so stakeholder input will be vital.