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2013 revisions to California’s RPPC law expanded the scope of the regulations that are now just beginning to be enforced through steep fines and other consequences. What do you need to know?

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

January 18, 2018

3 Min Read
Understanding California's rigid plastic container law

California is known as a trend-setting state, credited (or blamed) as a place where cultural movements become phenomenon, for example yoga in the ‘70s, bottled water in the ‘80s and interest in organic products and sustainability gained momentum in the 2000s.

It’s likely that what happens in CA doesn’t stay in CA.

Like other states, California has requirements for recycling plastics, but the state also has requirements for new plastic packaging that fall under the state’s Rigid Plastic Packaging Container (RPPC) program, whose regulations also impose substantial penalties for noncompliance.

I didn’t know about that plastics-centered mandate and corresponding penalties until I saw the conference program for next month’s WestPack show in Anaheim, CA, where a legal expert was presenting on the subject. The best way to find out more was to go to the source to Natalie Rainer, associate, Keller and Heckman LLP (Washington, D.C.), who provides a preview overview of her talk in this PlasticsToday exclusive.

In short, what’s this legislation about and why should plastics professionals pay attention?

Rainer: While California’s RPPC law was promulgated in 1991 and, thus, has been in effect for decades, revisions in 2013 resulted in an expansion of the scope of the RPPC regulations; these “new” regulations are just beginning to be enforced.  The stakes can be high, as companies can be the subject of fines of up to $100,000 annually for violating RPPC regulations, as well as public disclosure concerning the company’s non-compliance with regulations intended to promote environmental stewardship.  Thus, it is important to understand the new regulations, which require companies to be prepared to demonstrate compliance to California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery Program within CalRecycle if requested.

What packaging is addressed in the legislation?

Rainer: Aside from certain exempt containers, RPPC regulations cover a plastic packaging container that:

  • Is made entirely of plastic, except for incidental portions of the packaging, like hinges and handles.

  • Has a relatively inflexible shape or form.

  • Has a minimum capacity or volume of eight ounces up to a maximum capacity or volume of five gallons.

  • Is capable of at least one closure, including closure during the manufacturing process.

  • Holds a product that is sold or offered for sale in California.

The type of plastic used is not relevant to whether a container meets the definition of an RPPC.

Which containers are exempt?

Rainer: Those consist of three classes of containers:

  1. Materials regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning food, drugs, cosmetics, baby formula and medical devices.

  2. Pesticides regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and

  3. Hazardous substances subject to regulation by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

What specific types of containers does this target?

Rainer: Examples of specific types of packaging/containers that would be covered by the regulation (if they otherwise meet the criteria summarized above) include:  plastic clamshells to hold toys, bottles to hold cleaning products, buckets to hold paint, tubes to hold adhesives, plastic folding cartons to hold stationery, tubs to hold detergent packets and plastic containers for electronics.

How does the process work?

Rainer: CalRecycle selects product manufacturers to demonstrate compliance through a pre-certification process, which provides product manufacturers with two years of advance notice, prior to demonstrating compliance.  If selected, a product manufacturer must disclose the identities of any products that are on the market in California and that are packaged in RPPCs. Information about the RPPCs and the compliance option used for these products must be provided to CalRecycle as well.  Demonstrating compliance is difficult in retrospect, so it is wise to be proactive and develop a compliance program in advance.  

While the RPPC regulations impact product manufacturers, e.g., the manufacturer of the detergent or paint or toy in the container, the manufacturer is likely to need to work closely with its packaging manufacturers to ensure compliance. 

Natalie Rainer of Keller and Heckman will address these and other crucial aspects of California's Rigid Plastic Container Law in her presentation at WestPack, Thursday, February 8, 10:30am - 11:15am. You'll find more information about the tradeshow and the on-site packaging conference at the WestPack website.

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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