WASHINGTON — If you're watching statehouses for plastics activity in 1998, you might want to keep your 1997 scorecards: Many of the same plays are going to be run again.
For example, California again will consider efforts either to shrink or expand its bottle bill to cover sports drinks and other beverages not popular when programs were enacted. And Massachusetts again will take up a bill establishing a product labeling system similar to California's Proposition 65.
Like last year, 1998 will bring activity on electric utility deregulation, said Rob Simon, manager of state issues for the Arlington, Va.-based Chemical Manufacturers Association. He predicted that legislation or regulatory changes have a ``better than 50 percent chance'' of passing in 10 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.
One area likely to take prominence in 1998 will be the state and local government implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's new clean air standards, said Richard Thornburg, vice president of government affairs for the Flexible Packaging Association in Washington.
EPA still must provide guidance to local authorities on implementing its 1997 rules that tighten emission standards for ozone and particulate matter, but FPA does not want local authorities to target factories to avoid alienating the car-driving public, he said.
Generally, however, plastics industry lobbyists say they do not have any major crises brewing in state legislatures.
``At this point, we don't have any specific threats on the horizon,'' said Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery, a Charlotte, N.C.-based and industry-funded PET trade group.
``We have not seen any serious frontal attacks on the legislative front in the states ... and I don't know that we foresee any particular legislative activity,'' said Lewis Freeman, vice president of government affairs with the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
On recycling, industry and recycling advocates sounded familiar themes.
Preliminary figures released in December by California officials indicate that the rigid plastic container recycling rate fell in that state again last year, said Rick Best, spokesman for Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste.
``We see that as a sign that there has to be a lot more done with plastics recycling,'' he said.
But NAPCOR's Schmidt said the industry will be able to score political gains by arguing that it continues to divert more material from landfills, even if the recycling rate goes down. Recycling markets have recovered and industry now has problems getting enough recycled PET, he said.
And industry can point to specific education efforts, like in the city of Louisville, Ky., which doubled the amount of PET collected every month in 1997, compared with the same period in 1996, Schmidt said.
Still, some officials said local governments are getting more concerned with wanting to boost recycling markets.
``This is being driven more by cities on the one hand wanting to have vigorous recycling, and on the other seeing that the markets are not as well developed,'' said Rich Goodstein, division vice president for national government affairs for Houston-based Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. ``They are lighting a fire under the organizations that can stimulate demand.''
Like 1997, this year is not likely to be a big year for state political activity dealing with recycling, said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute.
``I don't see legislation bouncing out of the communities or states without a groundswell of support from the public and others,'' she said. ``My sense is you are not going to see legislation at the national or state level, I don't believe, on these really touchy issues of mandated content or bottle bills. You know the bucks that are behind the interests that don't want these activities.''
The spokesman for the GrassRoots Recycling Network downplayed the role of political pressure in 1998.
``I see us making progress on a number of recycling issues, more on direct pressure on companies rather than through major legislative initiatives,'' said GRRN's Lance King.
GRRN has been pressuring Coca-Cola Co. to use recycled content in its PET bottles, and a California county's waste agency took the unusual step of urging its residents to mail bottles back to Coke in protest.
Besides California, recycling advocates say they see bottle bill activity or active discussion in Georgia, Iowa, New York and, possibly, again in Massachusetts. California's complicated recycling program, which requires industry to make up some of the difference between the cost of recycling and the market value of waste, must be renewed in 1998, opening a window for changes.
Florida also expects to consider whether substantial state funds should continue to go to local recycling programs.
King also said a new group that he is president of, the Consumer Environmental Alliance, wants to pursue false advertising or deceptive claims issues on post-consumer content. He declined to discuss specifics.