We’ve broken down the new legislation by location, but it certainly could’ve been by type as well. For instance, nine states have introduced Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills in 2024: Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington.

And obviously these bills can change from proposal to final draft, so they won’t be individually discussed below. Nor do they have much impact if you don’t operate in those states. Instead we’ll cover nationwide regulations, or in the case of California, a law that could be the template for many other EPR bills.

All of these directives fall into one or more of a handful of columns: Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), EPR, recycling, composting, greenwashing, single use plastic, toxic chemical pollution, clean air, or clean water.

United States

The US doesn’t have any nationwide recycling laws, nor composting, DRS, or EPR. Federal agencies tend to do the bulk of the work when it comes to regulating packaging or environmental matters. While that could certainly change if Congress were to act, for the moment, most packaging rules will come through these agencies.

EPA Rulings

Clean Air

This first one isn’t a law, per se, but in March 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized plans to lower the annual limit of PM 2.5—a particulate matter that’s smaller than a human hair and has been shown to be responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year—from 12 microns per cubic meter to 9. The rule will go into effect on May 6 and falls under the agency’s authority with the Clean Air Act. 

How this can affect you: Glass, paper, and plastic manufacturing groups all oppose the new rule, saying it will limit the ability to build new manufacturing facilities. The EPA’s data also says that more than 100 countries will be noncompliant regarding the new rule. 

This rule could make it harder to source packaging materials, and it could make it more expensive, as the cost of updating manufacturing to be compliant will likely be passed on to consumers.

New EPA rulings to ensure clean air and water safeguards both public health and the environment, but can make it harder to source packaging materials.
New EPA rulings to ensure clean air and water safeguards both public health and the environment, but can make it harder to source packaging materials.

Drinking Water

PFAS are a class of chemicals known as “forever chemicals.” The most popular brand names of them are Teflon and Gore-Tex, but there are approximately 15,000 chemicals that fall into this class. 

If you’ve ever seen the movie Dark Waters, then you have a good idea of what they are. If you haven’t seen it, then this reporting is a good place to start (which incidentally was published just one week before this writer was tasked with writing a website for a Teflon company from the agency he used to work for). 

Either way, the EPA introduced new limits on the amount of PFAS in drinking water on April 10. The new rules only affect 6 chemicals, but it’s a start. 

How this can affect you: PFAS are used everywhere. They’re also extensively used in manufacturing plastics. If you’re trying to source plastic in the US, this could make it harder to source and more expensive. This isn’t a bad thing.

PFAS in Food Packaging

Sticking with the PFAS theme for a moment, packaging for greasy food is no longer made or sold with PFAS on it in the US, according to the FDA. After securing voluntary commitments from manufacturers in 2020, it took a while to exhaust the supply that was already sold. But the FDA now says that any packaging for greasy food doesn’t have a PFAS coating on it.

How this can affect you: It really shouldn’t in any noticeable way. Reducing exposure to PFAS at every opportunity is a good thing, and there’s already other barrier coatings that can be used instead. Packaging for greasy food will be just fine.

The major source of dietary exposure to PFAS from food packaging like fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and take-out paperboard containers is being eliminated.
The major source of dietary exposure to PFAS from food packaging like fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and take-out paperboard containers is being eliminated.

Executive Order 14081

In 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order 14081, which has a goal of replacing 90% of fossil fuel-based plastics with biomaterials within the next 20 years. 

How this can affect you: While on the surface, the EO sounds good, there are a number of groups that say President Biden’s administration wasn’t bold enough in trying to reduce plastic manufacturing or an emphasis on recycling. However, this kind of public support for biomaterials is a great thing, and can encourage more development (along with financial resources) of biomaterials. You probably won’t notice an effect this year, but in five years? Biomaterials will likely be used in your packaging.

FTC Green Guides

At some point this year, the Federal Trade Comission will release an updated version of its Green Guides. These guides help steer marketers and advertisers away from greenwashing by giving clear rules on what’s deceptive and what’s not regarding environmental marketing. 

How this can affect you: Until the updated Guides are released, it’s hard to say for sure. But it seems likely that the Chasing Arrows recycling symbol will be going away (which California did in 2021, unless companies could prove their products or packaging would be recycled in most communities). Beyond that, when the Guides are released, there will be a lot more guidance on what constitutes greenwashing and what doesn’t. And these Guides will have a say on what you can print on your packaging.

California

SB 54

The biggest recent law in California regarding packaging is SB 54. While this law was passed in 2022, it’s still worth mentioning in 2024 as its impact is still being felt. SB 54 is an EPR-related bill requiring manufacturers of single-use and plastic packaging to pay for recycling and reduce or eliminate single-use and/or plastic packaging.

EPR bills shift the responsibility of paying for recycling infrastructure, sorting, and collecting from taxpayers to manufacturers. The idea is to make those responsible for creating waste also responsible for cleaning it up.

SB 54 also requires:

  • 100% single-use packaging to be recyclable or compostable (including metal and paper) by 2032, with benchmarks along the way.
  • A 25% reduction in all plastic packaging.
  • A 65% recycling rate for single-use plastic packaging.
Summary of the main goals of the Californian SB 54 legislation, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act. (Photo credit: StopWaste)
Summary of the main goals of the Californian SB 54 legislation, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act. (Photo credit: StopWaste)

But this 35% differential between required recyclability/compostability and actual recycling is what makes it a poor choice among sustainability professionals. Too much is reliant on consumers and collection systems. While you want customers to need and buy your products, disposal of packaging shouldn’t be put squarely on their shoulders.

This is the strongest environmental and packaging related bill to be passed in any state in the nation, and could be used as a framework for other states that follow.

How this can affect you: As the law is already in place, if you’re doing business in California, you should already be feeling its effects. Design for recyclability or compostability, and reduce the amount of packaging you create, and you’ll be just fine.

European Union

Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR)

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) was proposed in November 2022, and it has gone through drafts and public comment periods. But the end is in sight. The next step is approval by EU Environment Ministers on April 24, “which is considered a formality.” When it passes, the proposal will have wide-reaching effects on any company selling products in any EU member country. 

The law will:

  • Establish minimum recycling targets.
  • Create a member-wide DRS scheme.
  • Set packaging reduction targets.
  • Institute reuse targets.
  • Ban single use plastic for many items.
  • Ban PFAS from food packaging.

How this can affect you: If you sell products in EU member nations, then this law will definitely affect you. Depending on the products you sell, it could affect the materials you use, how an item can be packaged, the design, and in the case of drinks containers, participating in the DRS scheme.

Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR)

Revised rules to the WSR were voted into place in February 2024 by the European Parliament. The main updates included banning the export of plastic to non-OECD countries within two and half years, and severely limiting plastic waste exports to OECD countries.

How this can affect you: If you’re doing business in Europe, then the waste has to go somewhere, or it should be designed out. The two most likely outcomes are that this will require an increase in local recycling capabilities, or it will further encourage the phaseout of plastic.

New packaging legislation is being implemented worldwide to address plastic pollution.
New packaging legislation is being implemented worldwide to address plastic pollution.

United Nations

The Plastics Treaty

In September 2023, the United Nations released the zero draft text for an international Plastics Treaty, which would be a legally binding agreement to address plastic pollution. One hundred seventy five nations have agreed to develop this treaty by the end of 2024.

However, this will not be legally binding legislation for businesses to follow, but nations who sign onto the new Plastic Treaty. Those nations will be required under international law to follow its commitments and may enact laws to follow through on commitments. 

How this can affect you: A lot of nations have a lot to say on this matter. Until a treaty is actually finalized, speculation on how tough or weak the treaty will be is moot. But if it does go through, the best option is to start sourcing fossil fuel plastic alternatives. That’s the best option even if it doesn’t go through though. 

Recent Court Cases

Court cases don’t create legislation, but verdicts can certainly have an effect. Three recent court cases could be catalysts for more laws surrounding emissions, toxic chemical pollution, water usage, and waste—four areas that would affect packaging.

In the first case, in August 2023, a Montana judge ruled “that young people have a constitutional right to a healthful environment.” While this case was centered on permitting oil and gas projects in the state, the decision could have greater consequences. (Plus plastic is made from oil and gas.)

The second and third cases, which both had verdicts released in the second week of April 2024, come from Europe and India. In Europe, a EU court ruled that human rights were violated because of inaction on climate change in Switzerland. And in India, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that people have “a right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change.” 

How this can affect you: None of these likely will in 2024, but with legally binding ruling, legislative bodies could start making moves. And it’s not hard to see cleaner manufacturing as an area making it into the crosshairs.

The Future of Packaging

While you shouldn’t ignore these laws if they affect a place where you do business, especially in the case of, say, a DRS system, it also doesn’t help to be reactive to them. A proactive approach, designing the least wasteful packaging you can, and using the least polluting materials you can should always be the goals. With Zenpack’s help, you can look at laws like this and say, ‘Oh, that’s old news. We arrived there years ago.’ Just give us a call and let’s get started.

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