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New Jersey’s Recycled Content Law and Alcoholic Beverages

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New Jersey’s Recycled Content Law was enacted to stimulate recycling markets by requiring food and beverage manufacturers to meet recycled-content standards in their product packaging. Manufacturers and distributors of alcoholic, low-alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages who sell their products in New Jersey should understand the extent to which requirements under this law could affect them.

As of 2024, all glass containers filled with foods or beverages sold in New Jersey are required to contain, on average, at least 35 percent post-consumer recycled content (“PCR”). PCR is defined as material or product that has completed its intended end use and product lifecycle and that has been separated from the solid-waste stream for the purposes of collection and recycling. If a manufacturer certifies that its PCR content contains at least 50 percent mixed-color cullet, then the manufacturer’s glass containers will only be required to contain, on average, 25 percent PCR content.  

A manufacturer under the law includes the brand owner of a product packaged in a rigid plastic container, plastic beverage container, or glass container, unless the brand owner identifies a licensee who agrees to accept responsibility under the law and the licensee informs the Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) in writing of the agreement. If there is no other person meeting the definition of a manufacturer over whom the state can exercise jurisdiction, a person who imports or distributes the product will be deemed the manufacturer. 

Entities that meet the definition of a manufacturer were required to register with the NJDEP beginning July 18, 2022 and annually thereafter. There is a $1,000 annual registration fee.  Apparently, the NJDEP believes most manufacturers failed to register in 2022, since the 2023 filing fee is rebuttably presumed to be $2,000—a combination of the 2022 and 2023 filing fees. The registration fee is waived if the gross revenues are less than $5 million or all of the products are exempt. Milk, milk products, formula, food for special dietary use, and medical food are completely exempt.  Foods for special dietary use and medical foods are exempt for five years.  

Food packages (except for plastic and glass containers filled with a beverage) are exempt from the recycled-content requirements for five years. This leads to a central question. What about wines and spirits? When asked, the NJDEP points to its Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQ”). Question 10 reads, “Is wine considered a beverage under the Recycled Content Law?” 

In response, the NJDEP writes:

The law defines a “beverage” as any of the following products if those products are in liquid, ready-to-drink form and are intended for human consumption: 

• Beer and other malt beverages 

• Wine and distilled spirit coolers 

• Carbonated water, including soda and carbonated mineral water 

• Noncarbonated water, including noncarbonated mineral water 

• Carbonated soft drinks 

• Noncarbonated soft drinks and sport drinks 

• Noncarbonated fruit drinks that contain any percentage of fruit juice 

• Coffee and tea drinks 

• Carbonated fruit drinks 

• Vegetable juice 

The NJDEP interprets “wine and distilled spirit coolers” as referring to wine coolers and distilled spirit coolers, not to standard bottles of still, sparkling, or fortified wine or liquors. “Wine and distilled spirit coolers” are defined as a beverage containing wine or distilled spirits to which is added concentrated or unconcentrated juice or flavoring material and containing not more than 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Therefore, while wine and distilled spirit coolers are considered a beverage and are subject to the law, bottles of still, sparkling, or fortified wine or liquors are not considered beverages under the Recycled Content Law, and are therefore not subject to the recycled content mandates of the Law. (Emphasis added.)

It is worth noting that the exemption for wine and liquors applies to the statutory requirements relating to the recycling content of the law. The NJDEP notes in question 15 of its FAQ, “[M]anufacturers that generate only regulated containers and packaging products that are temporarily exempt through the five-year food exemption are required to submit an initial registration to the NJDEP through the online registration service. However, following the submission of the initial registration, annual registrations are not required until the temporary exemption expires, at which point manufacturers must begin to register annually. Should a manufacturer produce only exempt products, they are exempt from the registration fee, as stated within the statute.”  

Manufacturers that register after December 31, 2023 will not be penalized unless the manufacturer has received a written notice from the NJDEP and does not register within 90 days of receiving that notice.

A copy of the law and the FAQ can be found on the NJDEP website at https://www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/recycled-content.

This article is not intended to give specific legal advice.  Before taking any action, the reader should consult with an attorney familiar with the relevant facts and circumstances.

Written by

Keven Danow

Founding and Senior Partner
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