Calif. Plastic Regs Ripple Out

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Californias revised laws on the recyclability of plastic containers — enforceable as of January 2013 under the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container program — apply to any U.S. or international manufacturers that supply lubricants or other products packaged in plastic either directly or indirectly for final sale in California.

Bottles, buckets, tubs, tubes, clamshells, jugs, and any other type of containers that hold between 5 ounces and 8 gallons of liquids that are sold in California are subject to the law, which was initially enacted in 1991 by Californias Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) as one part of an effort to reduce the amount of plastic waste and increase the amount of recycled postconsumer plastic. The law was revised this year to broaden the definition of rigid plastic containers and increase the stringency of some of the regulations.

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During his presentation at the Petroleum Packaging Councils fall meeting in Nashville, Tenn., the groups general counsel Jeff Leiter reminded participants of the scope of the law, stressing that its not just those completing physical transactions in California who need to be mindful. The new regulations make all manufacturers responsible for ensuring that their domestic and overseas supplies are using compliant containers if the products are to be sold in California, Leiter said, noting that the revisions intend to subject foreign suppliers such as Chinese companies, for example, to the regulations.

If a company or a brand name appears on the label of a plastic container of any [applicable]product that is offered or sold either directly or through distributors, franchisees or internet sales in California, then that company is subject to the RPPC program. Leiter stressed that its necessary for all manufacturers to determine whether their containers are subject to RPPC, and noted that if so, its wise to assume you will be asked by CalRecycle to submit certification of compliance.

Per year, more than 500 million plastic containers, as well as more than 21 million buckets and almost 336 million clamshells are subject to the RPPC program, the government agency estimates. Manufacturers must meet one of the following compliance options for any relatively inflexible plastic container holding between 8 ounces and 5 gallons that has at least one opening and is sold or offered for sale in California:

  • Be made from at least 25 percent postconsumer material. Using post-industrial material or material scrapped from manufacturing containers as a substitute for postconsumer material is now prohibited, Leiter pointed out.
  • Have a recycling rate of at least 45 percent.
  • Be usable or refillable at least five times.
  • Be source-reduced by 10 percent within the first year after being placed on the California market. Leiter mentioned that switching from a heavier to a lighter resin to achieve source-reduction compliance is not permitted.

Failure to comply, or late or non-submittal of any phase of the certification process, is a public offense which can result in minimum fines of $1,000 or up to $100,000 per year, according to CalRecycles RPPC website, www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Plastics/RPPC.

Leiter, senior partner with Washington, D.C.-based Leiter & Cramer PLLC, is general counsel to both PPC and the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association.