Pending state law would end use of misleading recycling symbols

Greta Taylor
Staff Writer

A pending law, which would prohibit the deceptive use of recycling symbols and green terms such as recyclable or environmentally friendly on containers that are not truly green, was approved by state legislators this month and is expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom soon.

Supporters hope this environmental advertising bill will guide companies to use truly sustainable packaging.

According to a news release by the bill’s lead author Sen. Ben Allen, D – Santa Monica, the pending law, Senate Bill 343, would “reduce consumer confusion about which plastics are recyclable in California…. This clarification will reduce contamination in the state’s recycling system and enable consumers to make more informed choices.”

The bill would impose a state-mandated local program and create a new crime enforcement that falls under current business and professions codes. 

Without this law, “the producers make all the decisions about what packaging types they use,” said Jennifer Fearing, president of Fearless Advocacy, the Sacramento-based group that has lobbied for this legislation. “We’ve been duped into believing it’s up to us. It’s a cynical ploy to shift the responsibility and burden of waste, garbage and pollution to (the consumer). What If sustainable products were the norm?”

The pending law would impose a state-mandated local program with built-in enforcement. 

Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of The National Stewardship Action Council and Director at Sacramento Municipal Utility District,  is another supporter of the pending law.

“Producers will be held accountable, to tell the truth,” Sanborn said. “People can’t vote with their dollars if they’re being misled on the label.”

Companies are profiting from mislabeled packaging and product greenwashing, say the pending law’s supporters.

But according to GreenPrint’s Business of Sustainability Index: “75% of Millennials….and 63% of Gen Z are willing to pay more for… sustainable product(s).”

Plastic use only became popular in the 1950s, and it’s created a massive amount of pollution in 70 years. 

Pablo Weaver, assistant professor of biology and ULV Montana field station director, said it’s important to see the big picture. 

“Every piece of plastic ever created still exists on the earth in some form,” Weaver said.

According to a recent study from Science Advances Journal: “Between 1950 and 2015…8.3 billion metric tons of plastics were generated.” This is the equivalent weight of 80 million whales. Plastic recycling is not efficient as 79% of all plastic is in landfills or the natural environment, the study found.

“The amount of plastic pollution out in the ocean and on land is increasing at a rate that a lot of people don’t realize,” said Sarah MacLean, a ULV visiting professor of biology and lecturer at CalTech. “The biggest contributors to… climate change and pollution are some of the larger companies. We need to hold them accountable.”

Change and accountability are the motivation for environmentalists fighting for bills like this one, Sanborn said. 

“The next step is for this bill to be national,” said Sanborn.

Using eco-friendly products helps, but the best thing you can do for the environment is vote. 

“Elections matter,” said Sanborn. “Get people in office that stay true to your vision, hold your elected officials accountable, run for office yourself.”

The environmental advertising bill was passed in the Senate on Sept. 9. 

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill into law. 

Greta Taylor can be reached at

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