California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent letters to six manufacturers of plastic bags demanding that they substantiate their claims that the bags are recyclable. The six manufacturers provide a large portion of the bags used by California grocery retailers and have certified that these bags meet recyclability requirements as required by state law SB 270. However, despite the manufacturers' claims and widespread consumer belief in recycling, plastic bags do not, in fact, appear to generally be recyclable, let alone "recyclable in the state," as required for such bags sold in California. Under Business and Professions Code sections 17508 and 17580, the Attorney General demands that the manufacturers produce evidence to substantiate their claims by November 16, 2022, or face potential enforcement action.
“Most Californians are under the impression that plastic bags are recyclable,” said Attorney General Bonta. “It's a logical conclusion: California has banned single-use plastics, and we see the 'chasing arrows' symbol or 100% recyclable printed on most every bag we get from the grocery store. But astonishingly, there's a good chance that most, if not all, these bags are not actually recyclable in California. As Attorney General, I'm committed to tackling the global plastic pollution crisis and the corporations behind it. I demand that manufacturers provide evidence to back up their claims about the recyclability of our grocery bags.”
In the 1950s, the world produced approximately 1.5 million tons of plastic annually. Today, that number has skyrocketed to more than 300 million tons and is continuing to rise. Instead of addressing this problem, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive – and deceptive – marketing and advertising campaign to convince the public that they can recycle their way out of the plastic waste problem. The truth is the vast majority of plastic products, by design, cannot be recycled. The rate of plastic recycling in the U.S. today is estimated to be just 6%. The remaining 94% is landfilled, incinerated, or otherwise released into the environment. In fact, following a comprehensive evaluation of the state of plastic recycling, the Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling concluded that, out of about 7 types of plastic, only three meet the definition of “recyclable” in California. All are variations of plastic bottles.
In order for materials like plastic bags to be recycled, there must be working collection systems, processing infrastructure, and markets to support their recycling. To date, plastics manufacturers have not made efforts to ensure these components exist. As a result, despite a widespread belief that plastic bags are recyclable, the vast majority of curbside recycling programs do not have the infrastructure or markets to reliably recycle plastic bags in California. Instead, the placement of these bags in curbside recycling bins interferes with the processing of actual recyclable waste, shutting down recycling equipment and increasing the risk of worker injury.
The Attorney General is responsible for the enforcement of California’s laws, including SB 270 and the state’s unfair competition and false advertising laws. SB 270, in particular, requires that reusable plastic bags sold in California must be “recyclable in the state.” Given the serious questions that have arisen about the existence of a market for recycled plastic bags, among other things, Attorney General Bonta today demanded information under Section 17580 from Novolex, Revolution, Inteplast, Advance Polybag, Metro Polybag, and Papier-Mettler to substantiate their self-certification to CalRecycle about the recyclability of their products; the basis for their use of the “chasing arrows” symbol on the bags; and other explicit and implicit claims relating to recyclability.
These letters build on the Attorney General's ongoing investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries for their role in causing and exacerbating the global plastics pollution crisis. The Attorney General’s investigation is examining the industries' historic and ongoing efforts to deceive the public and whether, and to what extent, these actions may have violated the law.