Plastic waste solutions hiding in plain sight: Recycled content requirements

This blog is the second in a series examining policy solutions to the plastic pollution crisis that are proven and replicable. This section covers recycled content requirements.

Haley Clinton

When a product says it’s made with “post-consumer recycled content,” it indicates using at least some material recycled from another product. Because I want to be a responsible consumer and help the environment, I’m more likely to buy a product made with recycled content. Unfortunately, companies aren’t required to use recycled materials, nor does a verification process currently exist to ensure that companies who say that they are using recycled content actually are, or that the percentage they are claiming is true. 

We need a verification system to hold companies accountable. At the same time, we need policies to require companies to use recycled content in their products instead of new materials that have an inherently higher environmental impact. As long as it is cheaper for manufacturers to use new petroleum-based materials than recycled ones, they won’t change their practices unless required.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s recycling problems have come to a head after many recycling facilities shut down due to economic disruptions and lack of demand. To make recycling facilities self-sustaining, we need to ensure a market exists for recycled materials.

Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to address this issue by passing a  recycled-content requirement for beverage containers. The legislation builds on previous policies enacted in the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law passed three decades ago, which created recycled content requirements for glass containers, rigid plastic packaging containers, newsprint, trash bags and other products. 

Thanks to California’s trailblazing, we can confidently call for similarly strict state and federal policies, such as those included in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which sets minimum recycled content standards and demands transparent reporting. With these policies in place across the nation, we’ll increase domestic markets for recycled materials and reduce dependence on new plastics and fossil fuels.

Look out for our next blog in this series about more plastic waste solutions hiding in plain sight and show your support for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act by contacting your legislators.


Haley Clinton