What was Wes Chesbro thinking when he proposed his newest legislation to encourage more plastics recycling?
California Senate Bill 1069, which currently is bottled up in the state Senate's Appropriations Committee, is remarkable for its lack of fairness. It singles out plastics packaging with a set of unrealistically high recycling-rate goals and stiff penalties for failing to comply.
If the bill were to become law, it surely would mean many packagers in California would shift to glass, metal or paperboard packaging. In many cases that would mean shifting to packaging that would be no more recyclable than the plastics that they would replace but would use more energy to create and ship.
Chesbro, D-Arcata, should withdraw the bill, or at least make it more fair and realistic.
What is SB 1069? It's a bill designed to encourage more recycling of nearly all plastic containers sold in California. Basically it would require the state to calculate the recycling rate for all plastic resins beginning in 2005. Any container made of a resin not recycled at a 50 percent rate would be subject to a tax equal to the cost of collecting and disposing of the package.
In that respect the proposal is similar to the Green Dot system, which has boosted recycling of all packaging in Germany. There's one major difference: Chesbro's bill applies exclusively to plastics, including bottles, cartons, cups, bowls and clamshells.
The only plastic packaging exempt from the bill would be those containers already subject to the state's deposit law, including soft drink bottles. California also currently has a law that requires packagers to use recycled content, or to make packaging lighter or to use resins that meet more modest recycling rate goals. But that law, unlike Chesbro's proposal, does not apply to food packaging.
An assessment commissioned by the Arlington, Va.-based American Plastics Council estimates the fee that would be created by Chesbro's bill would add 5½ cents to the cost of a gallon of milk packaged in plastic, and 15 cents to an average-size detergent bottle.
Currently the bill is simply a club that environmentalists can use to force the industry to do more to boost recycling. But while Chesbro's proposal is stuck in committee now, there's no guarantee that it will stay there. In fact, it's likely to pop up again next year, if not earlier.
Perhaps Chesbro is just trying to get the attention of the plastics industry. It's obvious from his legislative record that he's concerned about plastics' historically low recycling rate, and he'd like the industry to do more to fix that problem. This proposal is a good indicator of his level of concern. But it also indicates an anti-plastics bias that is worrisome in a state where the plastics industry has such a large presence.
Encouraging recycling is good: It reduces litter and helps to preserve natural resources. But doing away with plastic packaging wouldn't solve any solid-waste problems that California has (or that Chesbro or the environmental group Californians Against Waste believes that it has). Why not concentrate on collecting packages that make sense to recycle, like 1-gallon high density polyethylene milk jugs, rather than driving dairies to use coated paperboard instead?
Better yet, why not give the “all-bottle” recycling approach currently advocated by APC a chance to succeed?