California's capitol building in Sacramento.

California legislators recently approved legislation regulating labeling on plastic packaging, with implications for electronics as well. | Bobkeenan Photography / Shutterstock

California legislation targeting how plastic packaging is labeled also affects recycling labels for consumer electronics, according to industry groups.

Senate Bill 343 passed the California Assembly on Sept. 8 and passed the state Senate on Sept. 9. The bill, authored by Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat, now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for a signature.

The bill is geared toward regulating labeling on plastic packaging, only allowing the classic chasing arrows recycling symbol on packages that the state deems “recyclable.” But the bill makes changes for some electronics, as well.

Under the text of the bill, devices can carry certain labels without being subject to the new criteria if they are covered by California’s e-scrap program, cell phone recycling law or battery recycling laws. California’s Covered Electronic Waste program applies to many video display devices, including CRT TVs, plasma TVs, LCD TVs, monitors and other displays, including most tablets. The state’s cell phone recycling regulations require retailers to accept cell phones for recycling.

Under SB 343, when these devices are sold new (CRT devices and plasma TVs are no longer sold), the products and their packaging would be able to carry “a direction to a consumer to properly dispose of or properly handle” through the state programs.

But other situations would cause more complications for OEMs.

For instance, if a device is not covered by a state program, any labeling would need to meet new state guidelines for what’s “recyclable.” The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) would develop those guidelines, and manufacturers would have to provide information supporting their recyclability claims.

In addition, labeling on devices that are covered by state programs may be subject to new guidelines if the OEM wanted to highlight trade-in or recovery initiatives outside the scope of the state program.

The bill text does not include recyclability determination criteria specific to electronics. But it notes that, for materials not collected in curbside programs, a product or packaging type would be considered recyclable if 60% (and, beginning in 2030, 75%) of the material sold into the state is recovered and if that material has enough commercial value to be effectively recycled.

A group of industry associations opposed the measure for a number of reasons. The group, which includes the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and The Rechargeable Battery Association (TRBA), said the labeling measure could harm electronics recovery in California.

In a statement to E-Scrap News, CTA pointed to a couple of key concerns with the changes.

“The Consumer Technology Association opposes California Senate Bill 343, which conflicts with labeling provisions in other U.S. and worldwide jurisdictions and will stifle the ability of producers to direct their consumers to recycle highly recyclable products such as batteries and electronics,” said Katie Reilly, director of environmental policy for CTA. “The consequence will be decreasing recycling rates for these highly recyclable products.”

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill.

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