CalRecycle implies policy changes due to National Sword

May 23, 2018

On May 2, 2018, the California Department of Resource Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) announced that it was postponing the release of its packaging reform paper – initially expected by the end of 2017 or early 2018 – due to upheavals caused by China’s National Sword policies.


In a letter from May 8, CalRecycle director Scott Smitline discusses how China’s strict new import policies are impacting California’s ambitious recycling targets. The Department sees these import restrictions as an opportunity for the state to become less reliant on exports to manage its recyclable materials.


Previously, about two-thirds of California’s curbside materials were exported to foreign markets – in 2016, 62 percent of these exports went to China.


There are economic pressures for California to improve its recycling infrastructure, both from a lack of end markets and also from Assembly Bills that establish certain recycling targets that local governments must meet. Assembly Bill 939, for example, requires municipalities to make efforts to reach 50 percent diversion rates. Given new challenges posed by China’s policies, however, CalRecycle notes that it will consider these impacts when determining diversion efforts.


Due to deficiencies in end markets for recyclables, companies have been stockpiling materials while waiting for markets to change. Smithline notes in his letter that operators can now apply for temporary waivers to increase the volume and duration of storage in a way that maximizes public health and safety.


CalRecycle poses opportunities to improve statewide domestic recycling infrastructure that would also reduce California’s dependency on exporting curbside materials, and Smithline closes the letter by implying that the state will soon see policy changes. He notes that they must “reassess product design, materials collection and processing systems.”


The Department wants the recommendations in their packaging reform paper to reflect the implications of National Sword policy updates, and they are taking a closer look at policy approaches for how to best handle several types of packaging – including uncoated and waxed corrugate, film plastics, multi-material pouches, expanded polystyrene and more.


Policy tools under consideration include material bans, mandatory labeling requirements, recycled-content requirements and extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs. California’s SB 168, which passed on January 29, 2018, also requires CalRecycle to study how an EPR system may be implemented to modify the state’s current Bottle Bill program. CalRecycle will provide the Legislature a report by January 2020.


There will be a public meeting hosted by CalRecycle on June 4 to start a conversation about the impacts of China’s import policies on different industries. Additional information and policy updates can be found on CalRecycle’s new National Sword website.


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