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SB 54: California’s move to a Circular Economy

Background and Motivation for SB 54

For decades, the plastics industry has tricked the public in thinking their products are fully recyclable. In fact, less than 9 percent of plastics are recycled, according to Californians Against Waste. SB 54 aims to increase recovery and reduce pollution. Taxpayers and local governments have spent over 420 million dollars on litter control and prevention efforts. We use them for mere minutes, yet we find plastics in our waterways, mountains, and even the most remote parts of the planet. 


Senate Bill (SB) 54 moves to hold the plastics industry accountable, help eliminate recycling confusion for consumers, and drive recovery of material. The bill’s pollution prevention success has yet to be seen.


Read more about how a circular economy mitigates climate change here.


In June 2022, the state of California pushed circular economy strategies forward by passing SB 54. This crucial piece of legislation requires all packaging in the state to either be fully recyclable or compostable by 2032. The goal of the ordinance is to cut total plastic packaging by 25% in 10 years as well as requiring 65% of all the single-use plastic bought, sold, used, and disposed of to be fully recycled.


The ordinance shifts the responsibility onto producers through an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) measure. The bill will require plastic polluters to raise 5 billion dollars over ten years. The state will use the funds to mitigate plastic pollution, while providing support to the communities most impacted.

SB 54 requires producers to join a producer responsibility organization (PRO) by January 1st, 2024. If organizations refuse to join, they will be unable to sell their products in California. PROs should assist the state in implementing source reduction measures, processing capabilities, collection methods, increasing recovery efforts, reporting, and auditing. Legislators expect SB 54 to be a collaborative effort from cities, governments, haulers, environmental organizations, businesses, and community members. 

Quick Facts – SB 54 Goals

  • 30% of plastics recycled by January, 1st  2028
  • 40% of plastics recycled by January 1st, 2030
  • 65% of plastics recycled by January 1st, 2032 
  • Plastic products include but are not limited to
    Single-use plastic packaging 
    • Single-use plastic food service ware such as, forks, knives, cups, bowls, trays, clamshells, lids, straws.
    • Non-compostable food service ware such as, plastic coated paper coffee cups or plastic coated paper food containers 

Who Will SB 54 Affect? 

As part of the regulatory and audit processes, SB 54 will require disposal facility operators to submit information to The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The Department will request recycling and composting reports on the types and quantities of materials that they buy, sell, and dispose of at their facilities. SB 54, along with the the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, will oversee the distribution, sale, and disposal of single-use plastics and packaging, prohibiting producers from selling, offering for sale, importing or distributing non-compliant products in the state. For consumers, SB 54 will clarify product specifications. This will help with both purchasing decisions and later product disposal. 

Praise and Critiques

SB 54 has been highly regarded as a groundbreaking piece of legislation. Supporters believe we need this type of policy to curb the plastic pollution problem. Additionally, the hope is for California to model a pathway for others, igniting similar pieces of legislation across the US and internationally. 


However, critics have expressed the uncertainty of the actual impact of the bill and potential loopholes the plastics industry could take advantage of. Uncertainty has been expressed over the legislation’s vague wording allowing for possibilities of chemical recycling as a recycling method. Critics have also mentioned how language in the bill gives the plastics industry too much leverage and self-regulation over their products, even having the ability to exempt certain plastic products from the law entirely if they present ‘unique challenges’. 

Will SB 54 Fix the Plastics Problem? 

In the wake of the 5th anniversary of China’s National Sword Policy, SB 54 comes at a critical moment for environmental regulation in the US. For too long, the plastics industry has sold their products under false pretenses, confusing consumers and causing harm to our planet. SB 54 is a distinct step in the right direction, though it will not solve the plastics crisis alone.


As the 5th largest economy in the world, California is doing its part to accelerate circular economy policies. SB 54 aims to prioritize proper waste management, and increase resource recovery. Only time will tell if the bill is successful in reigning in the plastics industry. 


This article was written by R20W’s Outreach Coordinator, Daniella Menendez. 

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