UPDATE: Jan. 18: Gov. Phil Murphy signed New Jersey's recycled content bill into law on Tuesday morning. The law establishes recycled content requirements starting in 2024 for certain plastic, glass and paper packaging and bans polystyrene packing peanuts.
- New Jersey’s recycled content bill, S2515, is on its way to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after passing the state's Assembly and Senate Jan. 10.
- Starting in 2024, rigid plastic containers will need to contain at least 10% postconsumer recycled content, and plastic beverage containers will need to contain at least 15%. These rates will rise incrementally over the years and cap at 50% by 2036 and 2045, respectively, according to the bill.
- The bill also establishes a 35% standard for recycled content in glass bottles; a 20% standard for plastic carryout bags; a standard of between 20% and 40% for paper carryout bags, depending on size; as well as a range of standards for plastic trash bags based on thickness. Polystyrene packing peanuts will be banned in 2024. Washington is another state that recently banned this packaging.
If signed, supporters say the law will be the most ambitious recycled content law in the Northeast and could serve as a model for neighboring states aiming to boost the local recycling economy. Yet some plastic industry advocates and manufacturers say the bill places too high a burden on their business and sets goals that may be too high compared with market supply.
The bill has received attention during numerous hearings and revisions since it was first introduced in 2020, the year the legislature passed a law to ban or limit some single-use items, like plastic and paper carryout bags and polystyrene foam foodservice products. Both supporters and critics of the recycled content bill see its passage as a significant shift in how the recycling system in New Jersey and the broader region will need to operate to better prioritize recycled material in the coming years.
Recyclers already had to adjust to the market changes when China stopped accepting most recycled material imports in 2018, and they need further help to foster a better domestic recycling system in 2022 and beyond, said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, which supports the bill.
“New Jersey recyclers are not unique. Recycling as an industry is in crisis, and we need to look at recycling close to home and create markets for it,” he said. “No more business as usual — now it’s about increasing recycled content over the course of this decade.”
In a joint statement after the bill’s passage, Assembly members Annette Quijano, Mila Jasey, and John McKeon, the bill's sponsors, said the measure will “allow us to be at the forefront of a transitioning recycling industry” by stimulating demand for recycled materials while also reducing pollution such as marine litter and microplastics. State Sens. Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein also sponsored the bill.
Other supporters include the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which called the measure “a sustainable program with quantifiable metrics and realistic goals."
"This will help increase stakeholder commitment throughout the supply chain to ensure plastics are responsibly manufactured, collected, and recycled into new products,” it said in a statement.
The bill's recycled content standards that will take effect in 2024 include requiring smaller paper carryout bags, those that hold less than eight pounds, to have 20% recycled content, while larger paper carryout bags will need to have 40% recycled content. Postconsumer resin (PCR) requirements in trash bags will vary from 10% to 40% depending on the thickness of the bag, according to the bill.
In addition to its baseline 2024 requirements, the bill has a timeline for increasing PCR in plastic items starting in 2027. Rigid plastic containers must increase PCR content by 10% starting in 2027 and increase another 10% every three years after, until they reach 50%, while PCR content in plastic beverage containers must increase by 5% starting in 2027 and increase another 5% every three years after, until it reaches 50%, according to the bill. Plastic beverage containers made using a "hot fill” process would cap at a maximum requirement of 30% PCR. Plastic carryout bags will need to have at least 20% PCR in 2024 and 40% by 2027.
After many months of adding amendments and compromises, the bill also has several exceptions and waivers. Dairy products, infant formula, food for special dietary use and refillable containers are exempt from the bill, while packages or containers for food will be exempt until 2027.
A manufacturer will be allowed to apply for a waiver from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection if it can prove it will not be able to achieve the postconsumer recycled content requirements under certain conditions. The state also allows waivers if the manufacturer cannot comply “due to inadequate availability of recycled material or a substantial disruption in the supply of recycled material,” according to the bill.
To help spur the market, the bill directs the state's DEP to establish incentives for manufacturers, recyclers, and retailers to collect and reuse polyethylene film, and DEP must also work with the Association of New Jersey Recyclers and the Clean Communities Program, a statewide litter abatement program, to develop and implement a statewide education program meant to encourage recycling.
Under the bill, DEP would also be able to review and update any of the postconsumer recycled content requirements based on factors like changes in market conditions, availability of recycled material or recycling infrastructure capacity.
A group of organizations, including AMERIPEN, the Consumer Brands Association, the Food Industry Association, PLASTICS, the Glass Packaging Institute and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, opposed portions of the bill. In a Jan. 10 opposition letter, the groups said they support the use of recycled content in packaging, but they took issue with the bill’s waiver process, which they believe is not practical because no third-party entity currently exists to certify waivers, and they deem the $1,000 waiver fee too costly.
The group also says the bill was written without thoroughly assessing current markets to make sure the postconsumer content standards will be feasible, especially the “unprecedented” 35% recycled glass requirement and the incremental PCR requirements. It calls on DEP to evaluate the market outlook for the PCR requirements of plastic items before the bill can go into effect. The group also called for food-contact packaging to be exempt from the bill entirely, pointing to recent recycled content bills in Washington and California that do not include food packaging in their rules.
“We recognize the need to drive the growth of end markets for the reuse of packaging materials, as this plays a significant role in reducing the environmental burden of materials by increasing resource efficiency,” the group wrote in the letter. However, the bill’s flaws “could significantly hinder progress and economic growth in New Jersey.”
The New Jersey bill has undergone dozens of amendments since it was first introduced in July 2020, in part because of wide interest from manufacturers, environmentalists and policymakers from beyond New Jersey, O’Malley said. The drawn-out stakeholder process has resulted in a strong bill, he said.
A working group of state recycling stakeholders in the Northeastern U.S. also kept a close eye on the New Jersey bill when drafting model legislation for minimum postconsumer recycled plastic content for items such as trash bags and beverage containers.
“We were doing this process over Zoom and had people around the country weigh in. Because of that wide feedback, that makes it a clarion call for other states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to copy New Jersey’s template as a regional model,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the law's deadline for plastic beverage containers to reach 50% recycled content.