Industry group backs national recycling reform — as long as it preempts California

By Jordan Wolman | 06/24/2024 01:20 PM EDT

Sen. Jeff Merkley is working on a bill to reform recycling labels, and packaging producers want it to preempt a 2021 California law.

Sen. Jeff Merkley speaks.

Sen. Jeff Merkley is working on a draft bill to set national product compostable, recyclable or reusable label standards. Francis Chung/POLITICO

A federal effort to regulate recycling labels on consumer packaging could end up preempting California’s first-in-the-nation law to crack down on misleading uses of the “chasing arrows” symbol if the packaging industry gets its way.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and industry and environmental groups are working on draft legislation to create federal standards for when beverage containers, food service products and packaging can don a compostable, recyclable or reusable label — and packaging producers are trying to preempt a similar California law, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, which counts Amazon, Exxon, 3M and the American Chemistry Council among its members, wrote to Merkley’s office last week to provide feedback on the draft bill. The group said it would support national standards that a product must meet to bear the iconic “chasing arrows” symbol but also said that any legislation should “expressly preempt” California’s 2021 law and other state laws as legislatures around the country weigh similar measures.


A Merkley spokesperson emphasized that the legislation remains in early stages and didn’t respond to questions about whether he supports preempting California’s law. Merkley told POLITICO in a statement that “there is clearly bipartisan appetite in Congress to provide consumers with clear and accurate labeling” and that his draft legislation is designed to increase recycling of packaging and “keep waste out of our environment.”