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LOS ANGELES, Dec.28 (Reuters) – Large retailers are breaking California law and deceiving consumers by selling plastic bags bearing language and symbols falsely suggesting the bags can be recycled, a commission appointed by the Status this month.
The group has called on California to force retailers to remove the ubiquitous “arrow hunt” logo and the words “recycle” and “recyclable,” Reuters has learned. If successful, this ruling could render the bags ineligible for sale at checkouts in America’s most populous state. The commission also covers padded envelopes and packaging materials used for home delivery, as well as plastic films on certain grocery items.
In a Dec. 3 letter viewed by Reuters, the California Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling called on California attorney general and regulator CalRecycle to crack down on what it claims is illegal labeling that undermines state efforts to fight against plastic pollution.
Deceived by the recycling symbols, Californians mistakenly throw this material into curbside recycling programs that do not accept it, the commission said. This increases the costs for recycling companies to remove waste from the waste stream and repair equipment blocked by these flexible plastics.
The complaint did not identify any retailer by name. The California Grocers Association (CGA) has said it doesn’t think the current recycling labels on reusable bags are misleading. CGA spokesperson Nate Rose said the bags meet the certification guidelines of the law, including requirements that they must be made from at least 40% post-consumer recycled material and be durable enough to be used 125 times.
In an interview with Reuters, Heidi Sanborn, chair of the recycling commission, said it was no surprise Californians were confused.
“It’s a Wild West of recycling labeling in California and there is no sheriff in town,” said Sanborn, founding director of the National Stewardship Action Council, which works to reduce product waste. . The 16-member commission is made up of leaders from the waste industry, environmental advocates and government officials. He is responsible for advising CalRecycle and providing recommendations for improving the state’s recycling system.
The commission’s complaint comes as California grapples with what critics say has become a loophole in the state’s 2017 ban on single-use shopping bags. The legislation, the first of its kind in the country, came amid fierce opposition from the plastics industry, which has spent nearly $ 6 million in an unsuccessful attempt to stop it, lobbying records show of State.
A compromise provision in the measure allowed retailers to sell reusable plastic bags for a minimum of 10 cents each. The law also states that bags must be recyclable in California.
It is this provision that the recycling commission is clamoring for for application by the state. In practice, converting flexible plastics such as shopping bags and packaging films into new products is so expensive that recyclers say there is no market for this material. Thus, these items are not widely accepted in curbside recycling programs across California. For this reason, according to the commission, they should not be labeled “recyclable”.
Likewise, the commission alleges that some retailers, amid increasing public pressure to reduce waste, are deceiving consumers by claiming that their bags and plastic films can be returned to participating stores for recycling.
Four members of the commission told Reuters that retailers have not proven that these programs in fact recycle the material. In-store recycling bins, they said, tend to attract a jumble of trash that ends up in landfills.
Among the retailers touting bag return programs is CVS Pharmacy, the pharmacy unit of CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) based in Rhode Island. The chain sells reusable plastic bags with the Pursuit Arrows logo in small print urging consumers to “recycle this bag at participating stores.”
CVS Health spokeswoman Eva Pereira did not answer questions about the number of the company’s more than 1,100 California stores participating. She said CVS hires outside companies to manage its in-store take-back recycling initiatives “and expects the processes of these partners to comply with applicable law.” One of the company’s main recycling solutions providers, g2 revolution, did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon.com Inc, also, is promoting a plastics take-back program in California. Spokeswoman Saige Kolpack said the Seattle-based retailer is “making rapid progress” in reducing its use of single-use plastic packaging. When asked by Reuters to provide proof that waste returned through its California initiative is recycled, she said: “We have nothing to share on this matter.”
Walmart spokeswoman Lauren Willis said the bags the retail giant sells in California are designed to meet state plastic bag law requirements and “are 100% recyclable. through our in-store collection program with other polyethylene film items that are not typically curbside. recyclable. ” It has not responded to requests for documentation on how material collected in this way is recycled or how many of its sites in California are participating. Walmart has 311 retail units in California, including supercentres, neighborhood markets, and Sam’s Club warehouse stores.
Lance Klug, spokesperson for CalRecycle, said the regulator supports ending “misleading” labeling on plastic bags and packaging films. But he said law enforcement rests with local district attorneys and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Bonta’s office said it was committed to enforcing the state’s environmental laws, but said it couldn’t comment on a “potential or ongoing investigation.”
If the state follows the commission’s advice, it could effectively end the sale of these bags and films in California, or force retailers to make them truly recyclable, said Jan Dell, commissioner and founder of the group. environmental The Last Beach Cleanup.
“It will destroy their ability to claim that their products are recyclable,” she said.
THREAT OF RECYCLING
Globally, less than 10% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, according to the United Nations, because it is cheaper to bury or burn.
These wastes clog landfills, contaminate the oceans and harm wildlife. Governments around the world have responded by passing polluter pays laws and banning single-use plastics like straws and shopping bags.
In California, the often thicker plastic bags currently sold by retailers are said to be used dozens of times. In fact, say environmentalists, many consumers quickly throw them away. Worse, they say, those that end up in the recycling bins make it harder for recycling companies.
Recyclers have to spend time and labor removing bags from the waste stream lest they damage their sorting machines, said Pete Keller, vice president of Republic Services Inc (RSG.N), the one of the largest waste managers in the United States. Stray bags frequently wrap around spinning discs that separate waste by size and weight, he said, forcing recyclers to shut down the equipment.
Keller said he supports removing the recycling language from these bags as part of a broader education effort to get Californians to stop throwing them in their curbside trash cans.
The plastics industry said it would be a mistake as others would end up as waste. According to Zachary Taylor, director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, some labels direct consumers to a website called How2Recycle, which provides instructions for recycling through store programs. The alliance is part of the Plastics Industry Association lobby group that led opposition to the bag ban in California.
“Removing state-imposed labeling… will result in more plastic going to landfills,” Taylor said.
It remains to be seen whether California will respond to the recycling commission and require retailers to prove that their reusable bags are truly recyclable.
Green groups say the state must start cracking down now for an even bigger enforcement task ahead. In October, Governor Gavin Newsom enacted a new “truth in labeling” environmental measure for all products and packaging sold in California – not just shopping bags. This legislation prohibits companies from using the word “recyclable” or the chasing arrows symbol on items that are not recyclable in the real world.
This legislation will come into force in June 2025. By then, the regulator CalRecycle must establish a list of plastics that it deems recyclable in curbside recycling programs.
Report by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; edited by Rich Valdmanis and Marla Dickerson
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