Recycled plastic content requirements are here and more are coming soon. Here’s what you need to know.
"As of early 2023, four states have passed laws requiring post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging; several more states have proposed laws to date this year, and there are broad-scale proposals actively under development in Canada and the European Union."
Using post-consumer resin (PCR) content in plastic packaging is one of the most effective ways to reduce the environmental impact of the packaging. It also helps build and stabilize recycled markets, level the competitive playing field, and provide an environment for end market investment, innovation and growth. This, in turn, can support the expansion and stability of community recycling programs.
The APR has a strong history of supporting mandatory post-consumer recycled content, along with third-party certification for post-consumer resin. Certifying PCR provides transparency and accountability for all stakeholders, from consumers through to brand companies, further sustaining a robust, fair, and trusted recycling system. Both Oregon and California cite the APR's PCR Certification Program, or similar third-party certification, in their policies (see below).
As of early 2023, four states have passed laws requiring post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging; several more states have proposed laws to date this year, and there are broad-scale proposals actively under development in Canada and the European Union. In addition, there is renewed state-level attention on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging policies to increase recycling rates. It is becoming more common for EPR policies to also include recycled content goals or incentives, which is seen as a complementary way to combine supply and demand side policies to improve recycling in a comprehensive way. All content mandates or incentives in existing or proposed laws specify PCR recycled content. Post-industrial (pre-consumer) material will not meet requirements.
In short, PCR requirements are here and this emphasis on recycled content appears likely to continue as policy makers aim to reduce plastic pollution and accelerate a circular economy. Key dates and details for packaging manufacturers and brand companies are outlined below. One thing is for sure: change is coming, and you'll want to keep up with the latest updates. Don't get left behind. Get certified today!
What PCR recycled content laws are in effect right now?
Recycled content requirements for plastic containers have been adopted by four states as of 2023, and requirements are already in effect in two of these states: California for plastic beverage containers and reusable plastic bags, and Washington for reusable plastic carryout bags, plastic beverage containers, and trash bags. The chart below outlines all recycled content laws passed to date, as well as the role of PCR Certification in the rulemaking process underway.
Table 1: Laws Passed to Date Requiring PCR Content: Dates & Rates
||Covered products||Start Dates(s) & PCR Rates|
(glass and plastics)
|1/1/22 – 15%
1/1/25 – 25%
1/1/30 – 50%
|CALIFORNIA||Reusable plastic shopping bags|
(2.25 ml minimum thickness)
|1/1/16 - 20%|
1/1/20 - 40%
|WASHINGTON||Plastic beverage bottles|
Plastic wine containers (187 ml) Dairy milk containers
Plastic household cleaning
and personal care products
Plastic trash bags
|1/1/23 - 15%|
1/1/26 - 25%
Reusable plastic carryout bags
|7/1/22 - 40%|
|NEW JERSEY||Plastic beverage containers|
All other rigid containers
Plastic carryout bags
Plastic trash bags
|Jan 2024 - 15% with 5% increases every 3 years up to 50% |
Jan 2024 - 10% with 10% increases every 3 years up to 50%
Jan 2024 - 20%
Jan 2027 - 40%
|Plastic beverage containers||1/1/26 - 25%|
1/1/31 - 30%
PCR Certification Requirements
At this time, third-party PCR certification is required under California SB 270; it can be required at the state's discretion under New Jersey's S2515 and is potentially in scope for Maine's discretionary advisory committee under LD 1467. PCR record-keeping and the potential for third-party certification will be discussed during ongoing rule making processes.
How does PCR fit with EPR legislation?
PCR requirements strengthen and stabilize market demand, but by themselves do not result in more supply. In other words, the fact that package converters need more recycled resin supply does not mean that consumers will automatically put more recyclables in the bin, or that municipalities will recover more materials. To be successful, recycled content requirements that create stronger demand for recycled materials must be paired with supply-side policies that directly influence households and businesses to recycle more, such as EPR, deposit return systems (bottle bills), landfill bans, and more.
The good news is that there's a growing trend to combine recycled content goals and incentives in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws. EPR laws have been passed in four states by the end of 2022 and 10 states have introduced EPR proposals in 2023. Packaging EPR policies broadly apply to most consumer-facing packaging, including most food and beverage packaging, but vary slightly state by state. By contrast, PCR rates are traditionally set by specific material types like plastic beverage containers or trash bags.
Under an EPR program, there are two ways in which PCR can be addressed:
- Establishing PCR rates: PCR rates are either specifically set in the legislation, or the legislation requires the state or the PRO to propose PCR goals as part of the EPR program plan.
- Provide eco-modulation incentives: Brand companies are rewarded for higher PCR usage through financial incentives that lower their fees under the EPR program. These financial incentives or penalties are called eco-modulation factors and are used in EPR programs to influence packaging design. For example, producers may pay a lower fee for a package containing higher PCR levels or pay higher fees on products with less PCR or that are harder to recycle.
|State||Content requirements, if any||EPR Implementation Dates|
|Maine (LD 1541)||Eco-modulation fees will be set during rulemaking; recycled content will be considered as a potential incentive.||Implementation anticipated by 2026|
|Oregon (SB 582)|
(Sections 11, 21)
|PCR content is listed as a "must consider" in establishing the criteria for the graduated fee structure.|
Local governments must ensure 10% certified recycled content in roll carts, bins and containers purchased by service providers, "... certified by an independent verification standard, such as the Postconsumer Resin Certification Program established by the Association of Plastic Recyclers."
July 1, 2025
|Colorado (HB 1355)||Minimum PCR rates will be proposed by the PRO in the program plan.|
A high level of PCR is listed as one of the incentives to lower fees under eco-modulation.
|Implementation anticipated in early 2026|
|California (SB 54)||Certified PCR content will count toward a portion of source reduction requirements. |
Certified recycled content beyond any minimum requirements will also be considered as producer fee "credit" adjustment.
What's next for APR and our members?
- Get PCR Certified or start asking for Certified PCR. Both Oregon and California cite APR's PCR Certification Program, or similar third party certification, as required for aspects of compliance, and more states are likely to include certification requirements to ensure accountability. This affects many stakeholders across the PCR supply chain: reclaimers will need to get third party certification on their PCR pellet & flake, packaging manufacturers will need to get PCR Certification on final packaging, and ultimately the brand companies will be held responsible for compliance. So don't wait for 2024 or 2025, get started now. If you're a reclaimer or a converter, get PCR Certified. If you're a brand company, start asking your vendors for third party Certified PCR!
- Push for more recycled content in non-packaging products… both in policy and in your own operations. Requirements for PCR content in items such as recycling carts, shipping pallets, crates and other durable items are also important tools to build and stabilize recycled markets. As a brand company, contract for PCR in the durable goods you use; as a recycler, push for local, state, and federal procurement to include recycled content in durable goods.
- Track updates on new recycled content and EPR proposals via blog posts, e-newsletters and in person at our APR meetings. APR is tracking PCR proposals in Washington, Maryland, New York, and Connecticut in early 2023. Let us know if you can testify or speak out in support of why PCR requirements are needed to strengthen plastics recycling.
- Stay in touch. We're here for questions anytime!