SAN DIEGO — California Integrated Waste Management Board Chairman Dan Eaton opened the state's recent conference on reducing plastic waste by asking participants to "think outside the box" and appealing for groups to "have the willpower to compromise." At the end of the two-day conference, some observers suggested that that does not seem to be in the cards.
Lance Hastings, director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America in Sacramento, Calif., told the group at the close of the event that "a resolution is not in sight."
Furthermore, Eaton said in an interview that trust between industry and environmentalists is "nonexistent at the present stage."
The Waste Board, however, plans to step up its activity by surveying about 1,000 companies, twice as many as before, to see if they comply with the state's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law. The state will survey four industry segments: 370 in auto parts, 70 in hobbies, 200 in janitorial supplies and 300 in hardware.
The state also plans to add four staffers to its RPPC program this summer, bringing its total to 12, said John Nuffer, manager of the Plastics Recycling Technologies Section at the Waste Board.
One change the board is considering, Eaton said, is doing a prospective recycling-rate calculation. That was welcomed by GMA, the American Plastics Council and Californians Against Waste — the Sacramento environmental group that is pushing for tougher recycled-content laws.
Currently, the board calculates recycling rates for previous years and, if the general rate fell below 25 percent or the PET rate fell below 55 percent, the agency asks companies if they complied in those years by using recycled content, source reducing or using refillables. The board's survey of 1,000 companies is based on 1997 data, and the board is currently calculating 1998 and 1999 rates.
A prospective rate, like Oregon uses, would give manufacturers more time to adjust, Hastings said.
But the parties remain divided on how to move the RPPC law forward.
CAW favors expanding the law to again require food and cosmetic packaging to use recycled content or follow other options if the recycling rate goes too low. CAW also wants to raise the minimum content level to 35 percent.
Rick Best, policy director for CAW, said the group has expanded compliance options for food and cosmetic packaging, and lets those companies combine options to get to 35 percent waste reduction.
"Certainly there have been issues with plastics to not want to use recycled content in food," Best said. "We would expand the range of options — recycled material could be used in nonfood packaging."
Hastings, however, said CAW needs to expand the compliance options for nonfood packaging. He criticized the CAW options, like allowing companies to track down other firms that have reduced plastic packaging and pay for credit for that, as a "huge burden to place on a company."
"It's like air [pollution] credits," Hastings said. "It looks great on paper but it would create a bureaucratic problem."
And he said the 61 technologies with Food and Drug Administration nonobjection letters for recycled content sometimes have limits that narrow when recycled content can be used.
GMA favors studying the law to see how it has worked, but is not interested in repealing the legislation, Hastings said.
Tim Shestek, manager of public affairs for the American Plastics Council's office in Sacramento, said the RPPC law ignores the role of consumer participation in plastics recycling. It also does not recognize environmental benefits of switching from heavier glass to lighter plastic, or other resource conservation benefits of plastics, he said.