California legislators have passed a one-year extension of the state's bottle recycling law — avoiding a significant fee increase for bottle makers and setting the stage for a debate on expanding the bottle bill.
The measure, passed easily by the state Senate Jan. 19, lets manufacturers avoid having to pay an extra $12.5 million a year to support PET recycling. But it leaves unresolved thorny political questions of expanding the bottle bill.
The one-year extension was passed as something of an emergency, after the 1997 legislative session ended and the state's complicated recycling funding system expired Dec. 31.
The bottling industry in California — including blow molders like Schmalbach-Lubeca Plastic Containers U.S.A. Inc. — currently pays about $20 million a year to make up the difference between the market value of recycled PET and the cost of recycling.
But industry would have been forced to pay an additional $12.5 million if the emergency measure had not passed. The law lets bottlers continue to use $12.5 million a year from unredeemed bottle deposits to offset industry costs, said Ralph Simoni, a Sonoma Plastics Recycling Corp. of California lobbyist. PRCC administers industry support for the program.
The law also continues $18.5 million a year of state money to support convenience-zone recycling centers in shopping centers.
The extension, which already passed the state assembly, puts pressure on industry and environmentalists to come up with a more permanent reauthorization of the state's bottle bill.
Environmental organizations like Californians Against Waste want to expand California's bottle bill to include noncarbonated and nonalcoholic drinks, like juices and water, while industry wants to reduce the money it must pay to support recycling.
State studies show that the actual cost of recycling in California is significantly cheaper than the levels set by the Legislature, Simoni said.
A new study from the state's Department of Conservation found that it costs $643 a ton to recycle PET, but recyclers collect $817 a ton now, he said. Using the new numbers would lower industry costs about 27 percent, he said.
Rick Best, CAW spokesman in Sacramento, said the group does not oppose adjusting industry cost supports to reflect more accurate costs for the program.
CAW officials predict Gray Davis, the new Democratic governor, will support plans to expand the state bottle bill, and that a group of newly elected state senators will form a strong recycling block in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.