A compromise bill on recycled content for trash bags cleared the California Senate and is headed for a hearing in the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee as early as June 23. Trash bag manufacturers and polymer recyclers have different perspectives. Most, but not all, agreed to compromise language after several months of discussions under the aegis of the California Film Extruders & Converters Association of Corona del Mar, Calif. The environmental group Californians Against Waste remains opposed.
At their May meeting, members of the California Integrated Waste Management Board voted, 4-2, to remain neutral on this bill.
Sen. Byron Sher, a Palo Alto Democrat, attached a three-year sunset provision before Senate Bill 698 cleared his Environmental Quality Committee. The provision applies pressure to show improvement in the effort to increase volume of post-consumer recycled content and would invalidate the law unless it was extended after an evaluation.
Sen. Richard Rainey, a Walnut Creek Republican, authored the bill, which the Senate approved, 27-0, on May 27 with support from CFECA, the Flexible Packaging Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several trash bag makers.
``We feel that SB 698 will increase the use of [post-consumer resin] from the existing trash bag law and allow processors the flexibility to produce a higher-quality product at a competitive price,'' said Bob Vetere, director of government relations for First Brands Corp. of Danbury, Conn., and a spokesman on the issue for trash bag makers.
``The bill broadens where we can market [post-consumer resin] and allows manufacturers to spread [post-consumer resin] content over high and low density [polyethylene] trash bags, in aggregate,'' said William O'Grady, general manager for Talco Plastics Inc.'s post-consumer products division in Long Beach, Calif.
``We think this bill sets a bad precedent and has a number of unintended bad consequences,'' said Rick Best, CAW policy director in Sacramento. As now written, SB 698 changes the method to calculate minimum content.
``You can demonstrate compliance with a California minimum-content law by counting use of recycled content in all of your [trash bag] activities outside California,'' Best said. ``The bill gives an advantage to national manufacturers by allowing them to average their use of recycled content out over their entire product life, while California-only manufacturers can't.''
Current law requires that all bags with a thickness of at three-quarters of a mil contain at least 30 percent recycled material. The proposed language would require manufacturers to use only the amount of recycled material they were required to use in 1996.
``If you downgauged your bag in 1996, you won't have to use any recycled content in the future even if you increase the thickness of your bags back above 0.75 mil,'' Best noted. ``If you didn't downgauge your bag in 1996, you will always have to use recycled content.''
Under SB 698, downgauging is no longer relevant because all trash bags must be used to gauge post-consumer requirements, according to Vetere.
SB 698 awaits a hearing in the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee, headed by Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, a Torrance Democrat. To proceed, the bill must clear the committee by July 18.