LOS ANGELES — If Californians don't recycle 50 percent of their rigid plastic containers by 2005, manufacturers will have to pay a penalty, under legislation scheduled for a hearing on April 16.
The state Senate bill represents a new strategy for California environmentalists. Instead of traditional demands for more bottle deposits or recycled content in packaging, they're simply setting a recycling rate and leaving it to industry to come up with a plan to achieve the goal.
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, unveiled the plan April 11 at the Plastics Encounter conference in Los Angeles.
The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata. It will come up for a vote before the state Senate's Environmental Quality Committee.
If approved, the bill will then be sent before the state Senate, where it must be ratified before going to the Assembly.
A proposed California law to expand the state's recycled-content requirements to include food and cosmetic packaging failed last year. This new bill differs in its direct approach to manufacturers, Murray said.
"We're using this as a starting point to get them more involved," said Murray, who is based in Sacramento, Calif. "We need critical incentives to make that possible."
Tim Shestek, western region manager for state and local public affairs with the American Plastics Council, was on the same panel with Murray. He did not have a comment on the new legislation but said that increased consumer awareness about recycling was a priority for APC.
"Consumers don't always look beyond soft-drink returns for curbside recycling," Shestek said. "They're not looking in the bathroom for bottles, or at laundry detergent containers. Plastics could play a bigger part in the recycling stream."
APC plans to spend $40,000 in Los Angeles County during 2001 for an awareness campaign, launched by June at area Albertson's supermarkets. The state of California, meanwhile, is spending $10 million during the next 18 months for recycling awareness, Shestek said.
Increased demand for recycled content in such products as plastic lumber will help maintain recycling demand without adding financial burdens to processors or taxpayers, Shestek said.
He said he could not say with certainty that Arlington, Va.-based APC would fight Chesbro's legislation.
A 50 percent recycling rate would require a big jump from the current level. Recycling rates for rigid plastic containers have dropped in California from close to 25 percent in 1995 to 17.9 percent in 1999, according to figures from the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Meanwhile, more than 2 million tons of plastic packaging were disposed of in 1999 at a $340 million cost to taxpayers, according to the legislation.
Still, the state already has a bottle-deposit law, expanded two years ago to include more varieties of containers.
Under the new legislation, manufacturers must ensure that at least 50 percent of plastic containers are recycled. The recycling rate for each resin type would be calculated separately. If they do not comply, packagers that use those materials would have to pay to offset the costs associated with the recycling of those containers.
Those costs typically would run 1-2 cents per bottle, Murray said.
He added that he expected the bill to be passed by the seven-member committee but face more serious opposition by the full Senate. The bill could be altered before final passage, if it passes at all, he said.