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Lawmakers fail to pass state plastic-waste reduction bill

For the second straight year, the state Legislature fell short of passing a pioneering bill to reduce the use of single-use plastic waste by 75%, as Monday’s midnight deadline for legislation this year expired without a final vote.

Less than 15% of California’s single-use plastic is recycled, overseas markets for the state’s recyclables have dried up and concerns are growing over the impact of the waste on marine life. That’s led environmentalists and numerous lawmakers to push for the landmark bill, which was designed to make the dramatic cuts in plastic waste by 2032 through a combination of less plastic use, more recycling and more compostables.

Activists again lamented failure of the measure, which would have addressed both plastic packaging and single-use products like utensils and cups.

“With marine plastic pollution projected to triple by 2040, the need for comprehensive single-use plastic regulation has never been more urgent,” said Christy Leavit, plastics campaign director for Oceana. “California lawmakers delivered disappointment instead of plastics reform, but this missed opportunity won’t dampen the movement.”

Like last year, identical bills were presented by both the Assembly and the Senate, with both being easily approved by their respective chambers. The Assembly version, AB 1080, even received approval Sunday by the Senate, but needed and failed to get a subsequent final concurrence vote in the Assembly on Monday.

“The silver lining is the strong support we have from the public on this issue,” said Dan Jacobson, director of Environment California. “People want to see change. And we will be back to clean our oceans. The fight continues.”

Opponents included the California Chamber of Commerce, which said in an opposition statement posted online Aug. 26 that the bills failed to adequately address the need for a radical increase in recycling infrastructure, that funding for the program was inadequately detailed, that the state’s recycling agency was given too much authority, and that the maximum fine of $50,000 per day was excessive.

The “goals are laudable and shared by the California Chamber of Commerce,” the chamber’s statement said. “Unfortunately … the bills are not implementable and will result in substantial negative repercussions for California businesses and the millions of Californians who will see higher prices or even some products disappearing entirely.”

Lack of details

Annual global production of plastic is 335 million tons and growing, while “by 2050 the mass of plastic pollution in the ocean will exceed the mass of fish,” the bills said.

California’s plastic waste problem has been exacerbated by China’s phasing out of recycling U.S. waste, beginning in 2017, with other Asian countries subsequently following suit. Until then, China had been taking two-thirds of the state’s recyclables, according to the bills.

Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, said the proposal was intended to reduce the amount of plastic packaging and spur development of recycling infrastructure, while providing a model for other states and countries. He said he sought industry and business input in developing the measure.

There are no specific quotas in the bills aside from the 75% overall reduction, with details to be worked out by CalRecycle — the state recycling agency — in coordination with those who produce, import and sell single-use plastics.

“This bill really puts the details in the hands of the producers,” Allen said prior to Sunday’s vote. “They’re both empowered and on the hook to come up with a plan. That’s why a lot of the industry is not opposing it, including the American Beverage Association.”

However, others — including the state chamber — remained opposed, calling for more changes to soften the anticipated requirements.

Complex maze

The movement for reduce single-use plastics has steadily gained momentum since 2016, when California voters approved a ban on single-use bags.

A handful of coastal cities — including Long Beach and Santa Monica — have approved restrictions on single-use plastic foodware and containers, several school districts have banned plastic straws, many businesses are voluntarily cutting plastic use, and the University of California announced Aug. 24 that it was phasing out most single-use plastics — including beverage bottles — over the next three years.

But the Legislature’s proposal was particularly ambitious. Not only would the effort necessitate a huge increase in recycling infrastructure but it is intended to address the complex maze of entities through whose hands plastic packaging passes — including those who sell products on platforms such as eBay and Amazon.

The owners of such platforms would be responsible for ensuring their sellers comply, Allen said.

“Everything you buy on Amazon or eBay is subject to state law,” he said. “The state has power over what’s sold in the state.”

The bills called for the reduction of single-use packaging and products “to the maximum extent possible” — language that Allen acknowledged was subjective.

“At the end of the day, you have to decide what’s practical to enforce,” he said. “Those are judgment calls.”

New costs

While the state chamber warned of increased consumer costs, Allen and other lawmakers noted that would be offset by savings cities and counties experience from reduced waste disposal costs. While local governments — and the waste haulers they contracted with — were getting paid for recyclables before China stopped buying them, they are now paying to dispose of them.

Allen defended the authority given CalRecycle, saying the agency, not the Legislature, was the expert in the field. And he said the maximum statutory fines were intended to be used rarely, levied only against the biggest, most blatant violators.

“There’s just not strong enough incentives out there for recycling,” he said. “With a bill like this, there’s going to be a lot more interest in recycling.”


Source: Orange County Register

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