Legislators Want To End Misleading Plastic Recycling Labeling

Two state legislators want to make sure recyclable plastics are labeled correctly.

S.7375/A.7668 is sponsored by Sen. John Liu, D-Bayside, and Assemblyman Steven Englebright, D-East Setauket, would prohibit the sale of products with deceptive or misleading claims about how recyclable a platic product is and wouuld require the DEC to develop regulations on product and packaging recyclability by Jan. 1, 2024, including a list of material types and forms that are deemed to be recyclable.

Plastic bottles and rigid plastic containers sold in New York would have to be labeled with a code indicating the type of resin or resins used to make the container and would prohibit the placement of a resin code inside the symbols commonly used to show that an item is recyclable unless the product can, in fact, be recycled.

“Many U.S. consumer companies and retailers sell plastic products that cannot be readily recycled, but still label those products as recyclable,” Liu and Englebright wrote in their legislative justification. “As a result, consumers who make purchases with sustainability in mind, attempt to recycle these products only to have them end up in a landfill. This legislation would help ensure that products labeled as recyclable in fact meet those criteria.”\

Plastic is labeled on “1” through “7”, with lower numbers easier to recycle. A 2020 Greenpeace study found that only items labeled “1” and “2” can generally be recycled, with other plastic items ending up in landfills. Plastics labeled “3” through “7” are usually collected by municipal recycling systems but are either sent to landfills or are incinerated.

In 2017, the U.S. produced nearly 35.4 million tons (32 million metric tons) of plastic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. while roughly 8.4% of that plastic was actually recycled. A 2020 study found the United States is sending more plastic than previously thought outside typical recycling streams. Previous studies hadn’t put the United States among the 10 worst offending nations for plastic waste in oceans because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only tracks what goes into official parts of the waste stream such as landfills and recycling centers, and its data doesn’t capture the dirtier aspects of plastic trash disposal, study authors said, according to a 2020 Associated Press report.

Researchers found so much is improperly handled that America ranks as high as the third worst ocean plastic polluter. The study estimated that 560,000 to 1.6 million tons (510,000 to 1.5 million metric tons) of U.S. plastic waste likely went into oceans.

“We are facing a global crisis of far too much plastic waste,” said study lead author Kara Lavender Law, an oceanography professor at the Sea Education Association in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The new research “was motivated by the fact that we know the United States was leaking more plastic than estimated,” she said.


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