Recycled content minimums

Washington’s new plastics law requires producers of many common single-use plastics to include a minimum amount of recycled material in their products. This law aims to boost domestic markets for recycled materials and reduce the economic dependence on virgin plastics.

Starting Jan. 1, 2023: 

  • Plastic bottles will be required to initially average at least 15% post-consumer resin (PCR), gradually increasing to 50% PCR
  • Plastic trash bags start at 10% PCR and increase to 20% PCR

Minimum-content requirements drive demand for recyclable materials

Previous recycling legislation has focused on improving the quantity and quality of the recyclable commodity supply. This led to an increase in the collection of materials without improving the development of end markets for these materials. The circular economy is incomplete without end markets no matter how efficiently we collect and sort materials for recycling. Setting minimum-content requirements for recycled content will help create those markets.

Definition of “post-consumer recycled plastic"

Post-consumer resin (PCR) is a technical term for recycled plastic generated by the end-users of plastic products. End users include households, as well as commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities. PCR also includes returns of material from the distribution chain.

This differs from pre-consumer material which is defined as “material diverted during a manufacturing process”.

Products required to meet recycled content minimums

  • Plastic beverage bottles
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Plastic bottles for household cleaning and personal care products

Trash bag labeling requirements start Jan. 1, 2023

Producers must label each package containing plastic trash bags sold or distributed in Washington with:

  • The name and location of the producer (city, state, and country).
  • A uniform resource locator or quick response code to a website that contains this information.

Who is the producer?

Unless otherwise stated in the law:

The manufacturer is the person or entity who is the final authority on decisions about the container in which a covered product is offered as a finished retail product. 

  • For plastic trash bags, this means the obligated producer is the person or entity that specifies the design of the trash bag.
  • For beverages and household cleaning and personal care products that use plastic containers, this means the obligated producer is the person or entity who is the final authority on decisions about the container in which a covered product is offered.  

We will assume the brand owner is the producer unless we are provided with contrary evidence.

There are many different types of producers, products and supply chains. This aims to provide additional guidance to questions we have received. It may not cover every possible scenario. New details regarding producer obligations may be provided as Ecology gets additional information and through the rulemaking and guidance development process.

How will we determine which person or entity is the manufacturer of the packaged item?

We will look to the person or entity who has final authority on decisions about the container in which covered product is to be offered as a finished retail product (other than just brand or trademark display in a brand-licensing context). Unless provided with evidence otherwise, we will assume the brand owner is the producer.

For plastic trash bags, the obligated producer is the person or entity that specifies the design of the trash bag.

Some producers start reporting in 2024

Beginning April 1, 2024, beverage and trash bag producers must submit an annual report — including the percentage of virgin and PCR plastic content by resin sold or distributed in Washington.

Other covered products will phase in at later dates.

Alternative version

We will equitably determine annual fees for producers

We will estimate our costs to administer the recycled content requirements for each upcoming year, and equitably invoice producers to cover these costs. The official rulemaking process (anticipated for completion in late 2023) may change how fees are calculated.

Producers can follow or participate in the rulemaking process. See our rulemaking webpage.