A coalition of grocers, food purveyors, dairies and plastics processors scored a compromise victory over recycling interests on the 1996 California Legislature's final night. ``Food and cosmetic companies, large and small, will be able to continue to sell products in plastic containers in the state,'' Dan Colegrove, western region manager of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America in Sacramento, Calif., said in a telephone interview.
``They won't have to worry about trying to comply with an impossible law or being fined by the state of California for doing business,'' he said.
Members of GMA, the California League of Food Processors and the Washington-based American Plastics Council rallied the pro-business forces to secure passage of a bill that would permanently extend the current exemption for foods and cosmetics sold in rigid plastic packaging from strict packaging content and recycling standards.
Observers expect Gov. Pete Wilson to sign the legislation, Senate Bill 1155.
Opponents were livid.
``The Legislature pulled the rug out from under a market-based environmental policy,'' said Mark Murray, executive director of environmental lobbyist Californians Against Waste in Sacramento.
``Proponents did a brilliant job of portraying [it] as a food-safety issue,'' Murray said.
The law, had it not been changed, would likely have triggered major changes in the plastics packaging industry nationwide, since firms would have had a tough time making recycled-content or source-reduced packages exclusively for the enormous California market.
Sen. Kenneth Maddy, R-Fresno, who carried the bill for the proponents, said food and cosmetic processors will no longer need to ask the Food and Drug Administration for waivers to use post-consumer recycled plastics in packaging.
Opponents believe the legislation eliminates any incentive for companies to pursue recycled content in packaging, and they urged Wilson to veto the bill.
As originally introduced, SB 1155 called for total repeal of a 1991 recycling law. Months of legislative posturing came down to a compromise bill in July, intense big-league lobbying efforts and a few terse votes in the Legislature's waning hours:
Assembly passage, 44-23, late Aug. 29. The bill needed at least 41 votes.
Senate governmental organization panel recommendation for approval, 6-2, about 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31.
Senate passage, 23-9, about 10:30 p.m. Aug. 31. The bill needed a minimum of 21 votes.
The 1991 law requires rigid plastic containers use 25 percent recycled content, achieve a 25 percent recycling rate, be source-reduced by 10 percent or be made refillable or reusable.
``If [food processors] can't use recycled content, they have three other ways to meet the law,'' said Sacramento lobbyist Pete Price, who represents recyclers opposed to the bill. ``Glass, aluminum and newsprint don't get three other ways,'' he said, referring to other materials with recycling programs.
John Shedd, president of recycler Talco Plastics Inc. of Whittier, Calif., was skeptical. ``We don't know the full impact until we see their real intent,'' he said.
Talco is among several firms that invested in large recycling equipment to carry out what they perceived as earlier legislative mandates. Other opponents included the League of California Cities and the disposal units of WMX Technologies and Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. and members of the trade-industry California Refuse Removal Council, which have contracts for curbside recycling programs and sell their collections to recyclers.
Opponents believe SB 1155 undermines the efforts of municipalities that need to meet a law to increase recycling, and disposal companies that want higher volume to grow their markets.
Some legislators asked GMA's Colegrove about extending the temporary exemption for food and cosmetics packaging.
``It's too hard on the companies,'' Colegrove said. ``We made a conscious decision'' to fight for a permanent exemption. The coalition succeeded, less than two hours before the Legislature quit for the year.