New Requirement: Plastic Beverage Containers Must Contain Recycled Content by 2022

Posted on Behalf of  Katie Gibbs

On September 24, 2020, California passed AB-793 entitled “Recycling: plastic beverage containers: minimum recycled content,” which requires plastic beverage containers to be made from post-consumer recycled plastic starting on January 1, 2022 (CA AB-793). This bill will require manufacturers to follow a tiered plan to increase the amount of recycled plastic in beverage containers over eight years (Table 1) (CA AB-793). While this bill makes California the first state to establish a minimum recycled content requirement in plastic beverage containers, a federal act has also been introduced in the United States Senate and House (H.R.5845 and S.3263).

The United States Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, which was introduced to the Senate and House on February 11, 2020, would also require plastic beverage containers to be made from increasing percentages of post-consumer recycled plastic, as outlined in Table 1 (H.R.5845 and S.3263).

Table 1. Percentage of recycled plastic required in plastic beverage containers by the beginning of the year


California AB-793

Proposed Federal Act
















References: CA AB-793; H.R.5845; S.3263

While these laws aim at addressing an environmental problem, there is concern that recycled plastic packaging may pose a variety of potential human health risks (Ericksen et al., 2018). For example, various heavy metals (e.g. Ti, Cr, Co, Cd, Pb, Zn, Fe, Al, Cu, As, Li, Sb) are added to manufacture new plastic. However, Ericksen et al. (2018) found that recycled plastics contained higher concentrations of metals compared to new plastic. These increased levels of heavy metals may be due to contamination introduced during the use of the original plastic bottle, from waste management, or through intentional addition during the recycling process (Ericksen et al., 2018; Hahladakis et al., 2018; Hansen, 2013). Sufficient exposure to heavy metals have been associated with a variety of adverse health effects ranging from loss of appetite, headaches, nausea, and stomach pains to birth defects, cancer, and even death (ATSDR 2005; Jaishankar et al., 2014; Sundar and Chakravarty, 2010).

In addition to heavy metals, other potentially hazardous chemicals commonly used in the plastic manufacturing process, such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde, and flame retardants, are also found in recycled plastic packaging (Hansen et al., 2013). While phthalates are found at increased levels in recycled plastic compared to virgin plastic, Bisphenol A, formaldehyde, and flame retardants are found at similar levels in both recycled and virgin plastic (Hansen et al., 2013; Pivnenko et al., 2016).

Overall, there is concern that these chemicals may leach from the recycled packaging into the water, juice, or other bottled beverages. For example, heavy metals have been shown to migrate from recycled packaging into solutions, especially those of an acidic nature (Bach et al., 2012; Whitt, et al., 2016). Once the chemicals are leached from the plastic packaging into the product, consumers are directly exposed to these chemicals through ingestion. Therefore, it is crucial for the product manufacturer to quantify potential exposures and determine the human health risk associated with such exposures.

Cardno ChemRisk has extensive experience in evaluating the potential health risks of possible leachable contaminants from consumer products. Our scientists have the ability to assess the potential exposures to contaminants from recycled plastic packaging and the possible toxicological effects. We provide recommendations for screening level testing and assistance, exposure and toxicological assessments, and comparative risk calculations. For more information regarding CardnoChemRisk’s consumer products testing and assessment capabilities, please contact Ernest Fung, Sharlee More, or Jillian Parker.