2000 promises to keep the plastics industry's lobbyists hopping. Health issues surrounding chemicals leaching from plastics in things like medical devices and toys seem likely to grab attention. Recycling and bottle bills promise to see heated debate in California, Iowa, and particularly Kentucky, where the governor and legislative leaders want action.
For composites fabricators, the Environmental Protection Agency expects to issue long-awaited — and tough — new emissions standards. Washington also will be debating regulatory reform, ergonomics standards, a China trade deal and legislation that would limit product-liability lawsuits on capital goods like processing machines.
Environmental organizations and some government officials are likely to continue to push for what they term "manufacturers responsibility" on recycling — which can mean requiring recycled content in packaging.
California regulators began enforcing laws requiring recycled content in some plastic bottles. Industry officials predict another legislative fight in that state over broadening recycled-content laws. And groups like the GrassRoots Recycling Network will continue efforts to convince socially responsible investment houses and cities like San Francisco to pressure Coca-Cola Co. to use more recycled PET in its bottles.
Iowa and Kentucky will be the two biggest states for bottle-bill battles, said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va.
Roger Bernstein, vice president of state government affairs for the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va., said the growth of plastics into new markets like beer will trigger more scrutiny.
"One reason we will have to be vigilant in the year 2000 and beyond is that the growth of plastics becomes a triggering event for potential legislative events that become restrictive," he said.
Concerns about children's health will continue to drive materials-deselection debates, like phthalates in toys, said William Carroll, vice president of chlorovinyl issues at Occidental Chemical Corp. in Dallas.
Carroll does not expect the concerns to spill over into vinyl's larger markets, and he downplayed suggestions that the attention will significantly hurt the vinyl industry.
"It reminds me of the early 90s, when we were talking about recycling pressure," he said. "Did it revolutionize the world? No. Did it destroy the virgin market? No."
Bernstein expects health issues to pick up at the state level, similar to Massachusetts' debate in 1999 about warning labels for reputed toxins. APC also will work on business issues such as model energy codes, adoption of building codes that help plastic pipe, and mold and use sales-tax exemptions in Florida and Georgia.
In Washington, presidential politics and the possibility of the Democrats retaking the House could stall major legislation, but there are many lower-profile issues important to plastics where decisions could be made, said Lewis Freeman, vice president of government affairs for the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
He said SPI will work, in part, on regulatory reform, liability limits on capital goods, continued funding for a new fast-track packaging approval program at the Food and Drug Administration, a Chinese trade deal and slowing efforts on ergonomics.