California Goes Above and Beyond the FTC’s Green Guides, Creates a New Standard for Recyclable

November 1, 2021By Karin F.R. Moore & Riëtte van Laack

On October 5, 2021, California signed SB 343 “Truth in Labeling for Recyclable Materials” into law, amending the state’s law relating to environmental advertising. The result is a California law that is significantly more narrow than the  Federal Trade Commission Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (“Green Guides”), In addition to significantly narrowing the categories and types of items that may be labeled as recyclable, the new law includes significant substantiation and record-keeping requirements for companies.

Until the law was enacted, California law allowed a recyclable claim, and required those claims to be substantiated by competent and reliable evidence. Any Company making such claims needed to keep records supporting the validity of those representations, including evidence that the claims conformed with the Green Guides.

SB 343 adds additional requirements; it requires that California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) update regulations that require disposal facilities to provide information on recycling data.  Based on these data, CalRecycle must conduct and publish a report of material types and forms that are collected by solid waste facilities.  The results of that study (which must be updated every five years) will determine if a product or packaging is considered recyclable; only if the product or packaging is collected for recycling by programs in jurisdictions that collectively encompass at least 60% of the population of the state will it be considered “recyclable.”  Furthermore, under the new law, the use of the chasing arrow symbol itself will be a misleading environmental marketing claim in advertising or on a product label unless the product meets the standard of “recyclable.”

Under SB 343, a product or packaging is not recyclable in California if:

  1. It includes components, inks, dyes, adhesives, or labels that prevent its recyclability;
  2. It contains intentionally added chemicals identified pursuant to regulations implementing section 42370.2(g)(4) of the California Public Resources Code; or
  3. It is made from plastic or fiber containing PFAS that have been intentionally added with a functional or technical effect or that measure above 100 parts per million total organic fluorine.

Notwithstanding the above, a product or packaging is recyclable if:

  1. The product or packaging has a demonstrated recycling rate in California of at least 75% (note this is a different metric from the 60% population target above);
  2. The product or packaging is not collected pursuant to a curbside program, but the non-curbside collection program recovers a certain portion of the product or packaging and it has sufficient commercial value; or
  3. The product or packaging is part of, and in compliance with, a program established on or after January 1, 2022, governing the recyclability of that product or packaging and the director of CalRecycle determines that it will not increase contamination of curbside recycling or deceive consumers.

Finally, SB 343 provides that resin identification code numbers (e.g., #1 PETE, #2 HDPE), cannot be placed inside a chasing arrows symbol unless the rigid plastic bottle or container meets the new statewide recyclability criteria discussed above. There are exemptions, though, including for consumer goods that display a chasing arrow symbol or instruct consumers to recycle a product as directed by the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act or any other federal or California law.

For companies selling products in California, it is not enough to simply follow the FTC Green Guides. Instead, companies must be aware of the specific nuances and requirements in California and developments in other states.  The FTC intends to begin an update of its Green Guides in 2022, and with growing conflicts at the state level like this new California law, we anticipate seeing some significant revisions with this update.