Great news from New Jersey! The State Legislature just passed an ambitious new bill (S2515/A4676) that will require minimum percentages of post-consumer recycled content in a variety of packaging products, including rigid plastic containers, beverage containers, paper and plastic bags, trash bags, and glass containers. The new law, which is just awaiting Governor Murphy's signature, will also set incremental increases to the Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) percentages and bans Styrofoam packing peanuts. This is a huge step forward for New Jersey and the East Coast as we now have the best-in-nation policy for addressing the plastic pollution crisis. Thank you to every Clean Water member and supporter who contacted their legislators on this important issue - we couldn't have won without you!
What's so great about PCR requirements
You have probably heard that our recycling rates are dismally low. In New Jersey we are up to an annual municipal solid waste recycling rate of about 39% while the national average is 34%. Those approximately 13.3 million tons of recyclables from New Jersey are what municipalities collect but that does not guarantee there will be a market for those materials - someone willing to buy them for the purposes of processing into a new product. Many countries that previously recycled materials from the U.S., including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, are no longer willing to import our recyclables because they are too contaminated with non-recyclable materials to effectively or safely handle.
This has caused a big disruption in the U.S. recycling industry, causing recyclers and municipalities to either pay more for recycling or resort to landfilling or incinerating the materials. In New Jersey recycling is required by law so NJ municipalities have been stuck paying more. Where towns once earned about $10 per ton of recyclables collected, they now pay $70 per ton to get rid of it. Meanwhile, NJ recyclers struggle and compete for the remaining existing markets.
This is where Post-Consumer Recycled Content (PCR) comes in. With a new law requiring manufacturers to use recycled material in products, manufacturers will seek out those materials, recyclers will have a stronger market, and municipalities will once again save money through recycling programs. This is a big deal because recycling markets are regional, meaning New Jersey's PCR law will benefit recyclers and municipalities across the entire Northeast.
How will this reduce plastic pollution?
We all know that we cannot recycle our way out of plastic pollution - that recycling is the third tier after waste prevention and reuse - but a healthy recycling industry means keeping more plastic out of landfills, incinerators, and our environment. With stronger markets, the U.S. will send less plastic overseas to countires unable to safely process the material, protecting workers and waterways alike.
It is also important to remember that most plastics are made from fossil fuels - specifically fracked gas. Manufacturers making products from virgin plastics are driving fossil fuel extraction - the root cause of both plastic pollution and climate change. As we work to create a new zero waste paradigm we need to drastically reduce the demand for virgin plastics and use the countless tons of materials we already have. This new PCR law will help us do that.
Summary of PCR Content Requirements
- Rigid Plastic Containers: 10% by 2027, to increase 10% every 5 years until reaching 50% by 2047.
- Plastic Beverage Containers: 15% by 2024, to increase 5% every 3 years until reaching 50% by 2045. Plastic beverage manufacturers using hot fill press will be capped at 30%.
- Glass Containers: 25% by 2024 (colored glass), 35% by 2024 (clear glass).
- Paper Carryout Bags: 20% by 2024 (bags holding less that 8 lbs), 40% by 2024 (bags holding over 8 lbs).
- Plastic Trash Bags: 5% by 2024, 10% by 2027 (bags 0.7-0.8 mils thick); 10% by 2024, 20% by 2027 (bags 0.8-1.0 mils thick); 20% by 2024, 40% by 2027 (bags 1.0 mils or greater).
States with similar laws as of January 2022:
Clean Water Action worked with many allies and partners in the NJ Plastics Coalition to help ensure passage of NJ's Recycled Content in Packaging bill. Special thanks to Beyond Plastics, Clean Ocean Action, Environment New Jersey, Save Barnegat Bay, Sierra Club - New Jersey Chapter, and Surfrider Foundation. To get involved in this campaign, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.