New California law targets single-use plastics in fashion and beauty

Packaging will have to use recyclable, refillable, or compostable materials.

Skin care products on a chest of drawers against a white wooden wall.
Mariya Borisova/Moment/Getty Images

California is addressing the harmful effects of single-use plastic through a new law that applies to all industries. Passed in June, SB 54 will require all packaging to use recyclable, refillable, or compostable materials by 2032. There’s also a fair chance the legislation will be adopted by other states throughout the U.S.

Any item that’s sold, distributed, or imported into California will need to reduce the use of single-use plastics by 25 percent by 2032. In the next ten years, 65 percent of all single-use plastic will also need to be properly recycled. Additionally, each company is financially responsible for the changes, including expenses to improve proper recycling infrastructure.

Single-use polybags used for shipping, plastic films, and collar stays are just a few of the packaging details that will need to be reconfigured or eliminated altogether. E-commerce, cosmetics, skincare, lotion, and shampoo bottles are all in the crossfires as companies will need to make packaging with a higher percentage of recycled plastic — in accordance with California legislation put in place last year — or feature fully recyclable construction.

Only 9 percent of all plastic ever made has been recycled, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Anna Efetova/Moment/Getty Images

Petty plastic — Companies that refuse to comply can be slapped with a $50,000 fee per day and per violation, which will be put into a Circular Economy Penalty Account. Plastic resin manufacturers that sell materials covered by the law will also have to pay into a new California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund. According to the California Governor’s office, the funds will “assist efforts to cut plastic pollution and support disadvantaged communities hurt most by the damaging effects of plastic waste.”

“California won’t tolerate plastic waste that’s filling our waterways and making it harder to breathe. We’re holding polluters responsible and cutting plastics at the source,” said Governor Newsom.

Some brands have experimented with refillable systems, but many of those still use a large amount of plastic. The law will also change the way brands market and design their products, as dyes and sticker labels can prevent plastics from being recycled.

According to a study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, only 9 percent of all plastic ever made has actually been recycled. While consumers may throw plastics into the recycling bin and call it a day, what happens next can be complicated. Regional recycling practices, complex symbols on the labels, and the different compositions of each piece make it difficult to ensure plastics actually end up being recycled.

Some beauty brands have stopped offering sample sizes, and others offer incentives for customers to bring back empty products for a refill, but the new bill’s mandate is a major step in a more sustainable direction.