New California Plastic Law Forces the Industry to Rethink Packaging
New Plastic Law in California Forces the Fashion and Beauty Industries to Rethink Packaging
By: Aude Sainte-Rose
Last year, California adopted an historic bill establishing the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act (SB54) that require producers to reduce plastic covered materials. In particular, the California new “plastic law” aims at cutting single-use plastic packaging by 65% within the next ten years. By January 1st, 2032, the state expects all covered material offered for sale, distributed, or imported into the state to be recyclable or compostable. How does this new law impact the fashion and beauty industries?
Many fashion and beauty brands did not wait for regulations to take sustainable actions when making packaging choices (See, Puma, back in 2012 with their “I’m half the bag I used to be” campaign, who by folding their T-shirts simply one more time, managed to reduce the packaging size by approximately half, saving a significant amount of CO2 emission and transport costs). This new law promises to incentivize other States in legislating and creating more sustainable packaging initiatives.
According to a study in the United Kingdom, about 70% of the beauty industry’s waste comes from packaging. This is largely because beauty products’ packaging is more fanciful than practical. Indeed, the more costly a beauty product is, the more clients can expect nonessential packaging.
As for fashion, and particularly fast fashion, the contribution to plastic pollution comes in the form of microplastic fibers which are responsible for generating enormous amounts of wastewater and emitting great quantities of carbon. Another study showed that 65 million tons of plastic was produced for textile fibers in 2016 which represents close to 20% of the total plastic production of that year.
Thus, brands will need to rethink packaging at every stage of the supply chain. The beauty industry, for instance, will need to take significant actions in terms of cosmetic and skincare. Because beauty brands make most boxes, bags, and containers with mixed materials, recycling their packaging can be challenging. Thus, more and more brands are opting for a refillable system which allows conscious customers to buy a bottle of their favorite fragrance or lipstick only once and refill it for life. This means that beauty product samples are likely to disappear as it typically amounts to a single-use. The same applies to fashion where reusable packaging will have to become the norm.
While green packaging initiatives and product designs are expected to emerge in the coming years, for now, the new regulation is California-wide, and we know that historically, sustainable actions at a one-State-scale have not always been followed. For example, the California fur ban (prohibiting the manufacture and sale of fur products in the entire state as of January 1, 2023) failed in New York three years ago.
However, the exponential growth of e-commerce that exploded during the pandemic, coupled with global supply chains has meant that we are consuming more packaging than ever. Climate change being the biggest threat of the century, and fashion and beauty being two wasteful industries, we can only hope that this bill spurs action across the US and across the world, not only to reduce single-use packaging but to spark a rethink of the single-use culture overall.
 Senate Bill No 54, California State Senate, June 30, 2022.
 “Governor Newsom Signs Legislation Cutting Harmful Plastic Pollution to Protect Communities, Oceans and Animals”, Jun 30, 2022, https://www.gov.ca.gov/2022/06/30/governor-newsom-signs-legislation-cutting-harmful-plastic-pollution-to-protect-communities-oceans-and-animals/
 Sustainability in Design, The Puma Approach, Sept. 27, 2012, https://shirahime.ch/2012/09/sustainability-in-design-the-puma-approach-2-of-2/
 “The courage to change”, British Beauty Council, (Pdf, 2020) https://issuu.com/britishbeautycouncil/docs/bbc_20-_20the_20courage_20to_20change_screen_final
 “Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics in environmental sustainability assessment”, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 652, 20 February 2019, Pages 483-494
 “California’s Plastic Law puts Beauty and Fashion on Red Alert”, Rachel Cernansky, Vogue Business, Aug 4, 2022, https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/californias-plastic-law-puts-beauty-and-fashion-on-red-alert (See for example, Credo, Boox, Returnity…)
 Cal. Fish & Game Code § 2023 (2019).
 See William Neuman & Jeffery C. Mays, Proposed Fur Ban in New York Pits Animal Rights Advocates Against Black Ministers, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2019),