California's plastic container recycling rate may have jumped above 25 percent in 2000, meaning that state regulators may suspend their efforts to make the industry's packaging more environmentally friendly.
The California Integrated Waste Management Board announced late June 29 that the rate fell in a range of 22.7-25.1 percent last year. That sliver above 25 percent is key: Any rate higher than that could mean the industry is exempted from the state's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container law.
Because the rate is in a range, the six political appointees on the waste board will have to decide whether the industry is exempt. They plan to take up the topic at the board's July 25-26 meeting.
The last time the board faced that dilemma, in 1995, it gave the benefit of the doubt to the industry, certified the rate above 25 percent and decided product manufacturers were in compliance and exempt from the RPPC.
``They've set precedent in the past by saying that when the rate went over [25 percent], they deemed everyone in compliance,'' said Lori Hanson, director of state and local public affairs for the western region of the American Plastics Council in Sacramento. ``They should follow the precedent.''
Only one board member, Steven Jones, was available for comment. He said he had not decided how he was going to vote.
Jones, a former waste industry executive appointed by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, said that ``it does fall within a range, but if you look overall, it's still a little bit lower than it had been. ... Clearly the range poses an interesting policy discussion.''
Jones said the Legislature's controversial decision to expand California's bottle-deposit system in 2000 helped raise the recycling rate. The change added noncarbonated beverages to the deposit program. Still, Jones said he was disappointed the law did not pull in even more containers.
The head of a California environmental organization said the board should certify the rate as below 25 percent, opening up some bottle makers and companies to regulatory action. If plastics do not meet the 25 percent goal, companies that sell nonfood products packaged in plastic bottles in California either must use recycled content or make containers lighter than in previous years.
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste in Sacramento, said the industry got a break in 1995 because it was the first year the law was in effect, and industry promised significant efforts to boost recycling. But those efforts never came, Murray said.
Since then, the state's recycling rate fell sharply, bottoming out at 17.9 percent in 1999, before rising last year. Murray noted that rates rose last year because of the expanded bottle bill, a law that APC fought against, along with its grocery and soft drink association allies.
Waste board staffer John Nuffer said the rate probably went up because of the expanded bottle bill.
Hanson said waste officials praised APC's recycling program in northern California grocery stores last year as helping to boost recycling. She said the recycling rate went up because of increased public education, primarily APC's effort.
Murray said the board, now led by an appointee of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, is more pro-recycling than the 1995 board.
``I'm confident they will certify it's below 25 percent,'' Murray said.