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Trash bag makers and plastics recyclers are nearing a consensus on how California should change its law on recycled content in the bags. Neither side can tolerate aspects of the existing law.

Efforts to bring harmony began soon after a California Senate committee killed a 1996 bill calling for modification of regulations on post-consumer content in trash bags.

The existing law says bags of at least three-quarters of a mil must contain at least 30 percent recycled material. The requirement was 20 percent prior to Jan. 1.

Bag makers say the law hinders their competitive flexibility, and recyclers dislike the impact on plastic-recovery volumes. Some trash bag manufacturers now run dual production lines to comply with the California recycled-content law and also market bags in other states.

The two sides met several times outside Sacramento's politically charged atmosphere, have established a level of trust and expect soon to submit agreed-upon language for a possible April hearing in the Senate's new Environmental Quality Committee.

Bob Vetere, director of government relations for First Brands Corp. of Danbury, Conn., heads the effort for the trash bag manufacturers, and William L. O'Grady, general manager of post-consumer products in the North Long Beach, Calif., facility of Talco Plastics Inc., represents the recyclers.

Members of both camps belong to the California Film Extruders & Converters Association of Corona del Mar, Calif. The group has committed resources toward building a consensus.

The proposal law calls for a complex formula:

Each company would calculate how many pounds of regulated product — bags 0.75 mil and thicker — it sold into the California market in 1996. This figure would be multiplied by 30 percent to calculate a target for post-consumer plastic purchases in the first year of the new law.

Each company also would calculate the percentage of recycled content in all of its trash bags — all mil thicknesses — it sold in California in 1996. In future years, each company would be required to meet that post-consumer content rate.

``The future target percent for each manufacturer will be unique to that manufacturer so as to create a more level playing field,'' Vetere said.

Recyclers also would gain, because even if bag makers continue to downgauge film, they would still have to continue to meet their 1996 post-consumer content rate in future years.

Vetere also suggested the change would ease the manufacturers' reporting burden and the California Integrated Waste Management Board's tracking obligation.

``Auditing and paperwork are reduced in difficulty by more than 60 percent,'' Vetere said.

As planned, the compromise would remove the mil requirement and broaden the market for material with post-consumer recycled content.

``It would guarantee that [post-consumer plastic] would continue to be used in all trash bags and, in theory, that quantities of [post-consumer plastic] would increase as the market for trash bags grows,'' O'Grady said.

Californians Against Waste, the League of California Cities, the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League can be expected to comment on the final wording.

Sen. Richard Rainey of Walnut Creek, a Republican, will carry the legislation as an amendment to pending Senate bill 698.

The Environmental Quality Committee holds sway on issues involving the California Environmental Protection Agency, of which CIWMB is a part. Previously, the Senate Natural Resources and Government Organization committees split the duties.

For the legislative effort, First Brands has worked most closely with competitors Tenneco Inc.'s Packaging Division in Evanston, Ill., and Presto Products of Appleton, Wis.

Other prominent trash bag makers include Ironclad Inc. of Tustin, Calif.; Trans Western Polymers of Livermore, Calif.; and Poly-America Inc. of Grand Prairie, Texas.