Recycled content minimums

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

Starting in 2023, plastic bottles will be required to initially average at least 15% post-consumer resin (PCR), gradually increasing to 50%. And plastic trash bags start at 10% PCR and increases to 20%.

Washington joins California as the second state with recycled-content requirements for plastic beverage containers and plastic trash bags. And it is the first to set these requirements for plastic bottles used for household cleaners and personal care products.

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.

“Post-consumer” recycled plastic

Post-consumer resin (PCR) is a technical term for recycled plastic — material generated by the end-users of plastic products. This differs from pre-consumer material which is defined as “material diverted during a manufacturing process”.

Products required to meet recycled-content minimums

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

Who is a producer of a covered product?

The law defines the producer to be the manufacturer of the covered product, the brand owner, the licensee of the brand or trademark, or the importer or distributor of the covered product.

Covered producers must register with Ecology by April 1, 2022

Covered producers that offer for sale, sell, or distribute covered products in or into Washington are required to register with us on or before April 1, 2022. Producers may register individually or through a third-party representative registering on behalf of a group of producers. We are currently developing the registration system.

All producers of covered products are required to pay their equitable share of administration costs identified in our annual workload analysis, including the cost of rulemaking. We anticipate completing the annual workload analysis by Jan. 31, 2022.

First impacted 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 we will then equitably invoice producers to cover these costs. Until rules are adopted (anticipated in late 2023), a general order will be issued to all producers of covered products that is adequate to cover, but not exceed our annual workload analysis.

Review of recycled-content minimums

We may review minimum-recycled-content percentages beginning Jan. 1, 2024. At that time, we would determine the yearly adjustments to a product type's minimum percentages.

What influences an adjustment review?

In deciding, we must consider:

  • Changes in market conditions, including supply and demand for PCR-content plastics, collection rates, and bale availability, both domestically and globally.
  • Recycling participation rates.
  • Availability of suitable recycled plastic, including high-quality and food-grade recycled plastic.
  • Capacity of recycling infrastructure.
  • Technical feasibility of achieving the minimum recycled content in products that are regulated under specified federal laws.
  • The progress made by producers in achieving the goals of this section.

Petitioning for a review

The producer petition process will begin on January 1, 2024, or when rulemaking is complete, whichever is sooner. The process will be determined in rulemaking.