The successful pitch by a coalition to permanently exempt food and cosmetics sold in rigid plastic packaging from California package content and recycling standards is nothing to cheer about. The effort, supported by a well-funded group of plastics suppliers, supermarkets, food growers and dairies, was a critical legislative confrontation in the Golden State. Not only is agriculture a huge California industry, the state's consumer market is so massive that packaging content requirements have national impact. Companies do not want to make separate packaging for products sold in California.
The coalition first sought repeal of the state's 1991 law requiring rigid plastic containers meet one of the following four conditions: use 25 percent recycled content, achieve a 25 percent recycling rate, be source-reduced by 10 percent, or be made refillable or reusable. A temporary exemption had been granted for food and comestics packaging.
One of the ironies of the coalition's victory is that California municipalities face a state mandate to increase recycling. It is difficult to understand how exempting food and cosmetic packaging from the rules supports that goal.
Unfortunately, recycling, while clearly good resource management, never has been truly embraced by the plastics industry. The fear of competition from the sale and use of recycled material has risen proportionally among resin suppliers to the growth in public support for recycling and the latter's market expansion.
What happened in California is an example of why the industry continues to struggle with an image - and credibility - problem.