Plastics Recycling Update

New Jersey lawmakers advance recycled-content mandate

N.J. state capitol.

Legislators in New Jersey approved recycled-content mandates for select plastic products. | Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

A bill establishing minimum post-consumer recycled plastic use in containers and bags was approved by the New Jersey Senate last week. State lawmakers are also considering a bill easing regulations for chemical recycling operations.

New Jersey Senate No. 2515 establishes recycled-content requirements for “rigid plastic containers, glass containers, paper and plastic carryout bags, and plastic trash bags.” The bill also prohibits the sale of polystyrene loose-fill packaging, otherwise known as packing peanuts.

The Senate approved the bill on a 22-14 vote on June 24. The vote fell largely along party lines, with all but one Democrat voting in favor and all but two Republicans voting against.

The proposal requires rigid plastic non-beverage containers to include an average of 25% post-consumer resin (PCR) by two years after the bill takes effect. Three years after that, the percentage requirement increases by 5 percentage points, and that will continue every three years until it hits 50%. Non-beverage food containers are exempt for five years, but would then be covered under the law.

Plastic beverage containers will be required to include an average of 15% PCR two years after the bill takes effect, also increasing by 5 percentage points every three years until the mandate hits 50%.

The bill exempts labels, caps, closures and other items affixed to containers. Refillable and reusable containers are also exempt from the PCR requirements. Several specific beverages are exempt, including milk products, plant-based milk substitutes, medical food or infant formula.

Plastic bags are required to include at least 20% PCR within two years, increasing to 40% after five years. Plastic trash bags will need to use 10% PCR within two years and 20% PCR after five years.

Under the terms of the proposal, manufacturers will be able to seek a waiver from the PCR requirements if they can’t comply with the terms “due to inadequate availability of recycled material or a substantial disruption in the supply of recycled material,” among other scenarios.

The bill has moved into the state Assembly, where it was referred to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. It will ultimately require a vote of the entire Assembly, and if approved it would move to the state’s governor for final approval.

Chemical recycling bill draws focus

The Assembly environment committee recently supported legislation that would ease state regulations covering chemical recycling facilities, also termed “advanced recycling” plants.

Assembly No. 5803, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon on June 1, “exempts certain plastic materials processed at advanced plastic processing facilities from state laws regulating solid waste disposal and recycling.”

The environment committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation on June 14.

Chemical recycling facilities would still be subject to all other state and federal laws, including environmental laws, according to a statement from the committee. The bill also changes the definition of “solid waste” to exclude plastic that is source separated and sent to a chemical recycling facility.

The bill defines such facilities as any operation that transforms plastics into “plastic monomers, chemicals, waxes, lubricants, chemical feedstocks, crude oil, diesel, gasoline, or home heating oil, using chemical processes such as gasification, pyrolysis, and solvolysis.”

The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental advocates, such as Clean Water Action, which submitted testimony urging lawmakers to withdraw the bill from consideration.

“These facilities undermine real solutions like waste prevention, reuse, product redesign, and traditional recycling by allowing the petrochemical industry to continue producing fossil fuel- derived single-use plastics that should be eliminated from the waste stream,” the organization wrote.

According to the American Chemistry Council, 14 states have passed similar legislation related to chemical recycling, with Louisiana being the latest.

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