Packaging Regulation of the Month: Exploring California’s SB 54
Thu Apr 04 2024

What is SB 54? 

In June of last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 54 (Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act) into California law.

According to the SB 54 Overview Fact Sheet: “The legislation shifts the plastic pollution burden from consumers—who currently pay for landfilling and pollution clean up—to the plastics industry.” 

SB 54 is one of the United State’s most robust packaging EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) laws—containing 3 ambitious goals set to be achieved by 2032. 

The 3 Goals of SB 54 to achieve by 2032

  • 100% of packaging in California (both imported and exported) in the state must be recyclable or compostable 

  • 25% of plastic packaging be cut 

  • 65% of all single-use plastic packaging in the state must be recycled 

The California law covers “covered materials” including: 

  • Single-use plastic packaging that is not refilled or reused 

  • Plastic single-use food-service ware (trays, plates, bowls, utensils, straws, and wraps)

You might be wondering—what about “unavoidable” single-use plastics that currently have no viable alternative? California lawmakers considered this by claiming products that are exempt from SB 54’s statutes.

Furthermore, certain small businesses will be exempt from the regulation’s statutes. 

The California law exempts the following products: 

  • Medical products / Prescription drugs 

  • Drugs for animal medicines 

  • Products regulated as animal drugs, biologics, parasiticides, etc. 

  • Infant formula 

  • Medical food 

  • Fortified oral nutritional supplements for chronic medical patients 

  • Packaging used to contain products regulated by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act 

  • Plastic packaging for hazardous materials 

  • Packaging for flammable and hazardous products 

  • Beverage containers subject to CA Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act

  • Packaging used for long-term storage (if product has lifespan of not less than 5 years)

  • Packaging under the architectural paint recovery program 

With SB 54, California became the fourth state to enact a packaging EPR law, joining Maine, Oregon, and Colorado. Earlier this year, Washington nearly became the fifth state to bring a packaging EPR law (WRAP Act) to fruition, but the act did not reach the House floor in time for a key deadline.

However, many other states this year, including Tennessee, Connecticut, and New Jersey, have announced EPR bills in development. The passing and implementation of SB 54 could potentially serve as a catalyst for other states to develop their own packaging EPR laws for producers.

How Does SB 54 Define “Producers” 

With the largest economy in the United States enacting a plastic packaging law impacting both imports and exports from the state, you might be wondering, will SB 54 affect my business? 

SB 54 will cover “producers” of both single-use plastic packaging and food-service ware—including the brands involved in the manufacturing, advertising, distribution, and sales of such products. 

The law covers all plastic packaging products in the “covered materials” that are both produced in the state and imported or sold into the state. This means that if you have vendors in California, they will be penalized if your product does not comply with SB 54—likely leading to the loss of a client.

The Role of PROs 

The producers who fall under SB 54 will be guided by two collaborative bodies—a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) and CalRecycle. Essentially, the PRO is a producer-run body responsible for creating and implementing SB 54 objectives, and CalRecycle is responsible for overseeing the PRO’s efforts.

Producers who fall under SB 54 (e.g., a toy company operating in California that has plastic packaging) will be required to join the PRO by January 1st, 2024. 

Although SB 54 puts the weight on producers and brands, the PRO forces the covered brands to join together to collaborate and create an EPR program that they themselves fund and operate to ensure proper collection and recycling across the Golden state.

The PRO, with oversight from CalRecycle, will serve as a vessel to advance SB 54 goals like creating a state-wide packaging EPR program, increasing recycling rates, and others. The participating producers in the PRO will pay a fee that will funnel into the California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund for statewide initiatives related to create and maintain a circular economy for plastics.

The fund ($5 billion USD) will be used to invest in projects for low-income and rural communities in the state. SB 54 not only works to increase recycling and reduce waste in the nation's largest state, but it also will provide funding to vital projects for the state’s most vulnerable communities.

According to the CalRecycle SB 54 Fact Sheet—“SB 54 builds a circular packaging economy.” SB 54 will mandate that producers ensure the following:

  • Their products are created and marketed using recycled content 

  • Their products are designed to be recycled 

  • Their products are collected and effectively recycled 

The circular economy network that SB 54 will work to create includes but is not limited to: 

  • Retailers 

  • Online Retailers 

  • Consumers 

  • Sorters and Processors / MRFs 

  • Producers 

The SB 54 Timeline

As you can see, SB 54 has ambitious targets to achieve by 2032, with multiple milestones outlined in the timeline below

  • June 30, 2022: Governor Newsom signs SB 54 

  • 2023: CalRecycle to appoint members of Advisory Group 

  • 2024: Publish list of recyclable compostable categories + Producer PRO deadline

  • 2025: SB 54 Regulations complete 

  • 2026: Publish recycling rates by Jan. 1, 2026 

  • 2027: CalRecycle Report SB 54 Regulations to Legislature 

  • 2028: 30% of plastic packaging recycled 

  • 2030: 40% of plastic packaging recycled 

  • 2032: 3 Goals of SB 54 Achieved 

  • 65% of plastic packaging recycled

  • 25% less plastic packaging

  • 100% of packaging is recyclable or compostable 

How to Prepare for SB 54’s Impact

SB 54 is one of the nation’s most comprehensive EPR bills in the United States to date, and with the sheer size of California’s economy and the bill covering imports and exports, many brands will fall under its requirements.

For example, a toy company based in Montana whose product line primarily consists of un-recyclable plastic toys packaged in a similar plastic material, and relies on vendors in California as a key market, would have to alter its offerings to align with SB 54 requirements or potentially lose relationships with vendors in the state. 

Brands and producers that choose not to comply with SB 54 will face massive civil penalties, including fines up to $50,000 USD a day per violation.

Meaning brands who fall under SB 54’s reach must be familiar with the timeline, components, and alternative recyclable materials in order to ensure compliance and reduce fines. 

Here at the Packaging School, we have an array of online courses that can help you and your organization prepare for upcoming packaging laws like SB 54.

Our catalog expands 30+ online courses, in a micro-learning format, covering an array of topics in the packaging industry—including courses related to sustainable packaging and regulations. 

Check out these courses to prepare your business for SB54: 

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