California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Packaging Materials Management

Manufacturers Challenge Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the Manufacturers Challenge?

    CalRecycle challenges product manufacturers and brand owners--on a collective basis, not on an individual company level--to voluntarily achieve a 50 percent reduction in packaging disposed in landfills in California by 2020. Industry and trade associations were invited to share their commitment, vision, and ideas to meet this goal at a public workshop on January 5, 2016.

    CalRecycle invites all product manufacturers to participate via industry associations (even if they did not receive a letter directly) by contacting Cynthia Dunn at

  2. What is the driver for the Challenge?

    The Manufacturers Challenge supports California’s broader statewide goal of 75 percent source reduction, recycling, and composting of solid waste by 2020. Packaging is one of many CalRecycle focus areas to help achieve the 75 percent goal, as it comprises about one quarter of the total disposal stream. Other focus areas include expanding recycling, composting, and manufacturing infrastructure; moving organics out of landfills; and achieving additional greenhouse gas emission reductions. This was the fourth public workshop regarding packaging since 2013 and was initiated in direct response to comments received from industry after the November 2014 packaging policy workshop that voluntary efforts would be effective and CalRecycle should focus on voluntary initiatives rather than mandatory approaches to increase packaging recovery in California.

  3. Why is CalRecycle focusing only on product manufacturers and brand owners?

    Local jurisdictions in California have been designing, financing, and implementing collection and recycling programs for decades. For more than 25 years now, they have been required to implement and maintain programs to meet AB 939’s 50 percent diversion goal, with potential penalties of up to $10,000 per day of non-compliance. Local governments, along with haulers, recycled-content manufacturers, and others have invested billions of dollars in collection and recycling infrastructure. These efforts have earned California recognition as a leader in the nation in recycling and efficient materials management. As statewide activities targeted at source reducing, recycling, or composting over 20 million additional tons by 2020 under the AB 341 paradigm, even more work must be done. This Challenge provides an opportunity for industry to collectively demonstrate a commensurate level of effort to achieve statewide solutions.

    Some product manufacturers and brand owners have, on an individual basis, made significant strides in areas such as source reduction, the use of recycled content, package optimization for increased transportation efficiency, and reduced transportation-related emissions, among others. However, in spite of the many good efforts on the parts of local jurisdictions and individual companies, CalRecycle estimates that packaging represents about 8 million tons, or one quarter, of the state’s total disposal stream. Paper and plastic are the predominant packaging material types disposed, at about 4.5 million tons and 2 million tons, respectively.

  4. Is CalRecycle trying to eliminate all packaging from the marketplace?

    Not at all. Packaging serves critical functions such as protecting the product from damage, contamination, and theft; protecting consumers through the use of safety seals and closures; and communicating important information to consumers. Packaging can also help to extend the shelf life of products, saving consumers money as well as ensuring that the resources that went into growing or creating the product in the first place do not go to waste.

    However, as noted in the 2014 CalRecycle Packaging Workshop Background Paper: Increasing collection and recovery of packaging in California, packaging can present a dilemma at the end-of-use when it:

    • Cannot be recycled. The lack of technical and economic feasibility (particularly for multi-material packaging but also for other types) prevents widespread recycling of the material.
    • Contaminates the recycling stream. This can occur when the package material is difficult for residents, businesses, and/or processors to correctly identify to determine how best to manage at end-of-use (e.g., newly-introduced and/or poorly labelled materials, or materials with incompatible ingredients), or the collection method of the package leads to the package itself slowing down and/or damaging processing equipment.
    • Lacks adequate end markets. Innovations in material type and/or application occur faster than end-of-use markets are able to develop. In these situations, the package is not collected in sufficient quantity to process economically (e.g., degradable resins or uncommon polymer blends), or recycling it may face other barriers.
    • Requires additional and/or specialized processing equipment. Technical feasibility exists but the processing facility does not have the adequate equipment and/or resources to retool existing equipment to separate the material economically (e.g., multi-material or multi-layered packages).
    • Requires additional end-of-life energy inputs. Adding new materials to an existing recovery system may require more energy, negating energy savings (and greenhouse gas reductions) elsewhere in the product life cycle.
    • Escapes into the environment. The package ends up in the environment as litter or marine debris for a variety of reasons such as poor collection/transportation management practices or lack of consumer education for proper end-of-use management.
  5. What’s the goal of the 1/5/16 workshop?

    This workshop is in response to industry’s call at the November 2014 CalRecycle policy workshop for CalRecycle to focus on voluntary industry action to increase packaging recovery in California. The goal of the workshop was to foster joint industry discussion prior to the workshop about its collective role in reducing packaging disposed in California landfills and for industry to share specific commitments to meet the voluntary 50 percent goal.

    Product industry and trade association representatives were asked to present their organization’s overall vision (i.e., what steps are needed?) and specific strategies they are willing to undertake in order to achieve the goal of 50 percent packaging reduction in landfills by 2020. As part of this, CalRecycle asked representatives to specifically address how these strategies would be funded, how progress would be measured, and timelines for implementation.

Last updated: January 19, 2016
Packaging Waste Reduction,
Contact:, (916) 341-6449