A legislative battle is shaping up in California as some members of the plastics industry try to roll back regulations on recycled content in trash bags and rigid containers. Assembly bill 2744 would modify regulations on post-consumer content in trash bags, and Senate bill 1155 would repeal the rigid container law.
Proponents of AB 2744 include First Brands Corp. of Danbury, Conn.; Tenneco Inc.'s Packaging Division in Pittsford, N.Y.; and Presto Products, based in Apple-ton, Wis. The Grocery Manufac-turers Association and American Plastics Council support SB 1155.
Opponents include environmentalists and some recyclers.
``Both bills will severely weaken the market for recycled plastic, thereby shifting costs to recycle from manufacturers to local governments and consumers,'' said Pete Price, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents recyclers Eco-plast's Ecosource subsidiary in Los Angeles and Talco Plastics Inc. of Whittier, Calif.
Republican Assemblyman Dick Ackerman of Fullerton disagreed.
``The current overall recycling effort is costing governments and consumers more because no market is there. It's well-intended, but it hasn't panned out.''
The Assembly Natural Re-sources Committee plans an April 8 hearing on AB 2744, which Ackerman is sponsoring.
AB 2744 ``appears to be another attempt to change the trash bag law,'' said John Shedd, Talco president. ``It is definitely not true that quality and quantity are not acceptable.''
As of 1993, bags of at least 1-mil thickness needed to have 10 percent post-consumer content. A 1995 amendment said bags of at least three-quarters of a mil must contain at least 20 percent recycled material beginning in 1996 and 30 percent beginning in 1997. The 1995 change gave a temporary exemption to bags using adhesive heat-affixed strips such
adhesive heat-affixed strips such as those made by Ironclad Inc. of Tustin, Calif.
Availability of post-consumer
material and quality denigration trouble bag makers. First Brands uses post-consumer plastic from Canada, New Jersey, Georgia and Texas to manufacture - in Rog-ers, Ark. - Glad trash bags that meet California requirements.
``All California production is isolated, and the customer pays a 3-5 percent cost penalty,'' said Bob Vetere, director of government relations.
First Brands tested bags with 30 percent post-consumer content and found strength dropped more than a quarter. More punctures and tears occur, supporting Ackerman's comment that ``bags with more recyclable material are becoming weaker and weaker'' and lead consumers to double-bag. Plastic wrap and bags accounted for $646 million of First Brands' sales of $1 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30.
``We prefer to be market-driven, and don't want products regulated,'' said Kim Kramer, environmental manager for Tenneco Packaging.
Tenneco prefers a direct repeal of the 1991 law, but would accept the proposed rollback to 1993 compliance of 10 percent recycled material in 1-mil thickness.
The three-quarter-mil thickness causes quality problems because it is ``hard to get right-quality material,'' Kramer said. In meeting the California requirements and also serving less-regulated markets, Tenneco Packaging carries dual-finished goods inventories and different carton graphics to make Hefty and Kordite trash bags at plants in Temple, Texas, and Jacksonville, Ill.
SB 1155, the rigid-container bill sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Maddy, R-Fresno, was approved 41-16 March 20 by the Assembly and has yet to be assigned a committee in the Senate.
SB 1155 would repeal the 1991 law requiring that rigid plastic containers achieve a 25 percent recycling rate, use 25 percent recycled content, be source-reduced by 10 percent or be made refillable or reusable.
The bill ``has momentum, but is getting opposition from environmentalists, recyclers and local governments,'' said Rick Best, policy director for Californians Against Waste.
``Several material suppliers have made sizable investments ... on the premise that the laws requiring recycling and reuse of plastics would be maintained and enforced,'' said opponent William Melville, president of processor Mayfair Plastics and Mayfair Packaging in Carson, Calif.
``These investments have permitted us to obtain [post-consumer resin] in the quantities necessary and at pricing levels needed to remain competitive.''
A major waste disposal company has ``very serious concerns and fully expects to take an opposed position,'' said Kent Stoddard, vice president of government affairs for Waste Management Inc.-West Group.
SB 1155 proponents say a change will not affect plastics recycling. Talco's Shedd disagrees: ``Very little material will be recycled,'' Shedd said.
While repeal proponents say the mandates support prices for post-consumer plastics more than promoting recycling, Shedd said: ``We've always been willing to meet or beat virgin and off-spec material prices. Price is not an issue.''