MASS. BILL WOULD MANDATE RECYCLABLE PLASTIC PACKAGING

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Massachusetts legislators are considering a bill that would require any plastic package to be recyclable statewide before it appears on store shelves, a step supporters say is needed to help the state recycle 46 percent of its municipal garbage by 2000.

But industry lobbyists say the plastics packaging reform bill —which has an important sponsor in the Statehouse — ignores economic realities because there is no demand for much of the material.

The bill warrants some attention because it is co-sponsored by state Sen. Lois Pines (D-Middlesex), co-chair of the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, according to industry lobbyists.

The bill would ban plastic packaging for consumer products unless at least 80 percent of the state's population can recycle the material by Dec. 31, 2000.

Specific regulations, exemptions and enforcement would be developed by the state's Secretary of Environmental Affairs, but the bill says that no packaging material would be given an exemption if it has an alternative that meets the recycling standard.

``It is clear that the plastics industry wants to use whatever type of virgin plastics they want,'' said Amy Perry, solid waste program coordinator for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, which supports the bill. ``That type of status quo cannot continue.''

Companies either would have to use packaging made out of materials in the state's recycling stream or work to make more materials recyclable, according to Perry.

Only about 50 percent of the municipalities in the state collect plastics other than PET and high density polyethylene, MassPIRG said.

The plastics industry lags in recycling its packaging materials, Perry said. According to MassPIRG, national figures from 1994 indicate about 7.5 percent of plastic packaging was recycled, compared with 42.5 percent for paper and paperboard.

The bill is an ``unachievable mandate'' because it ignores the marketplace, said Roger Bernstein, senior director of government affairs and regional operations for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council. Local governments should be allowed to decide what type of recycling they want, he said.

The bill does not give any credit for source reduction, which also reduces the amount of packaging in the waste stream, SPI/APC officials said.

Predicting its chance of passage is difficult because this is the first time the bill has been introduced, according to industry officials.

The other chief sponsor of the legislation is state Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Franklin).