The partisan sea change in the makeup of state legislative bodies in the 1994 elections means lawmakers at that level are likely to debate far fewer plastics-related initiatives in 1996 than in years past, state legislative observers say. This means plastics-recycling mandates passed in the 1980s are remaining intact, but are not being expanded to include more types of consumer packaging - at least not at the high rate that the plastics industry had once anticipated.
The reason for this reduction in emphasis on plastics and waste stream issues is the turnover in state governors' mansions and state legislatures. The new Republican majorities have tended to emphasize a resolution of fiscal issues.
Sixteen of the 50 state legislatures changed from Democrat majorities to Republican in the 1994 election. But that does not mean new twists on old themes won't appear in legislatures in 1996.
Closely watched will be Oregon and California: a ballot initiative in November in Oregon could expand the nation's oldest mandatory deposit law to all drink containers except milk, liquor and wine in 1997.
Many plastics containers are already included in the Oregon mandatory deposit law, yet popular consumer items such as sport drinks will come under the deposit rule if the initiative gains approval. However, the glass industry may be more affected than plastics, as many of the packages not covered by the returnables law are made of glass.
In California, with the most complex rates and dates law for recycled consumer packaging, the American Plastics Council will push to make the state's container law ``less potentially restrictive,'' said Roger Bernstein, APC vice president for state legislative affairs.
But generally, ``1996 will not be too dissimilar from 1995,'' said Lewis R. Freeman Jr., vice president for government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. ``We saw decidedly less activity in the states [in 1995] than we did in 1994. Some of the recent laws that sought to directly approach the plastics industry have not been pursued.''
Republicans also gained a net 11 gubernatorial chairs in 1994, to make the current makeup of state governors 31 Republican, 18 Democrat and one independent, said Paul Hatch, executivedirector of the Republican Governors Association in Washington. Before the 1994 contests, Democrats held 30 governors' offices, Republicans 18, and Independents 2.
The new year brings optimism to the Washington-based APC's state legislative agenda.
State legislative activity interesting to the plastics industry has not been great in the past year, according to Bernstein. In fact, ``There has not been state legislative activity in the past several months,'' he said in a recent telephone interview.
Bernstein said the council is ``going to try to move on the offensive in 1996'' and he believes the time at long last may be at hand to convince state lawmakers that source reduction, not just recycling, should be their aim in rulemaking for the environment.
Solid waste presents opportunity situations, Bernstein said. In Florida, legislators are expected to look at rewriting the state's solid waste laws. APC is hoping to pursue a source-reduction initiative in that state that would provide landfill diversion credits to participating companies, Bernstein said.
``We are seeing less hostile legislation introduced'' in most state lawmaking bodies in a climate he described as ``not [as] tax happy'' as at times in the past, he said.