Learn how the new plastic law will transform California • Sacramento News & Review

Plastic is everywhere – in our packaging, in our parks, in our oceans and even in our bloodstreams. But SB 54, which Gov. Newsom signed into law in June, aims to change that. It requires all packaging in the state to be recyclable or compostable by 2032, reducing plastic packaging by 25 percent in 10 years and requiring 65 percent of all single-use plastic packaging to be recycled in the same period. It also shifts the burden of plastic pollution from consumers to manufacturers.

We recently sat down with Rhodes Yespen, executive director of the Institute for Biodegradable Products, to discuss the state’s future.

Rhodes Yespen, Executive Director of the Institute for Biodegradable Products

California Plastics Law SB 54 not only requires source reduction, but also requires that 65% of remaining plastic products be compostable or recyclable. How will that affect compostable Products?

It will have a huge impact as much food contact packaging that is not recyclable today will likely need to be redesigned to be compostable. Also, fees on all packaging are used to cover the cost of taking back that packaging, including composting facilities that choose to accept compostable products, something BPI has campaigned hard to get included in SB 54.

Consider flexible food packaging such as bags of chips or snack bar packaging as a use case. The aspects that make recycling these items challenging (food soiled, lightweight, multi-layered) are all compostability benefits. Food soiled: Composters want food leftovers so that the article fits into the program. Light/Small: A smaller proportion of food packaging is ideal for composters – packaging is a delivery tool and an ability to reduce contamination. Multi-Layered: Compostability standards establish a common denominator based on the final structure; The composting process does not require delamination.

pollution by conventional Plastic container is a big problem in food waste composting. What role does compostable Products to alleviate this problem?

Contamination from traditional packaging is absolutely one of the biggest obstacles to food waste collection and successful composting, and it really is the whole reason compostable products and packaging were invented in the first place.

Food is the #1 material going to landfill each year, and it’s a climate catastrophe, producing massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and robbing our soils of the compost to regenerate our soils that are sorely needed to combat drought, sequester carbon and avoid fossil-based fertilizers.

As states like California and Washington begin to implement requirements that all homes and businesses have access to leftover food collection, how will we equip everyone to avoid contamination? It’s through tools like compostable bags for leftovers to keep kitchen bins clean, and compostable foodservice products and packaging to collect along with the groceries.

What is the cost difference from conventional ones and compostable ppack? How does increased volume affect price?

Volume and scope absolutely affect the price of disposable items, whether you are looking at a compostable or conventional item. That goes for the raw materials that are produced for biopolymers on a much smaller scale, or the processed products and packaging, which in turn… tend to be smaller than traditional packaging. It’s important to remember that these costs are inherent in non-compostable products, they really are to scale, and also when we look at how cheap conventional packaging is, it’s partly because we didn’t take all the external factors into account , such as the environmental fairness of waste or the cost of contamination in composting facilities.

“Contamination from traditional packaging is absolutely one of the biggest obstacles to the collection and successful composting of food waste and is truly the only reason compostable products and packaging were invented in the first place.”

Rhodes Yespen, Executive Director of the Institute for Biodegradable Products

Are there examples of municipalities that have needed these products?

The most famous example is San Francisco, which pioneered the first home composting program for food waste more than two decades ago and has long been a proponent of using compostable products like bags and grocery items. This is because these tools encourage participation and make them cleaner and more convenient for everyone, not just first-time users who are willing to go the extra mile for composting. It’s been great to see how the City of San Francisco’s program has evolved over time alongside BPI certification, especially in 2017 when the threat of PFAS (or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) rocked the compost world. Through several stakeholder workshops, expert consultations, etc., BPI and San Francisco were able to agree on criteria and a timetable to remove PFAS from compostable products. It was no small thing, but it worked and shows the power of partnership.

Just for fun: ice cream, cake or tart? beach or mountains? Dog or cat person?

I love vegan ice cream, which has come a really long way, especially oat milk based versions. I grew up with summers in the Adirondack Mountains hiking and canoeing. And I currently have three cats, along with over 20 rescued farm animals at my family’s micro-sanctuary called Fluffy Butt Rescue in New Jersey.

Thank you for your time today Rhodes.

About Thelma Wilt

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