Have you read the draft white paper on optimizing plastics use, recycling and disposal in California?
Shame on you if you're involved in the plastics industry and you haven't read the report — especially if you're in the packaging or recycling sectors, or if your company does significant business in the Golden State. We published the Web address for the report (www.ciwmb.ca.gov/plastic) last week, and advised readers that the California Integrated Waste Management Board will accept comments on the draft at a Sept. 26 meeting in Sacramento.
The 90-page report already generated some controversy when the authors, from Sacramento-based consultant NewPoint Group Inc., held a June 24-25 workshop, and some plastics industry members complained about anti-plastics bias in the project.
It's true that some opinion creeps into the report. For example, you could argue almost every point in this excerpt: “The chasing arrows plastics resin code system provides a false sense of recycling security for industry. Only HDPE and PET plastics are recycled with any significant frequency, yet many consumers are led to believe that any container with a chasing arrow code is recyclable.”
Also, the report has a defeatist attitude about litter. Yes, plastic trash causes a great deal of problems, particularly to marine life and birds. But any global traveler can tell you that litter is not a universal problem. Why can't we put more effort into changing Americans' wasteful, slovenly habits?
Still, much of the report's contents are impressive.
For example, there's a well-reasoned section under the header “Life cycle material analysis can be informative tool, but it should not be used for policy decisions.” It notes that the winner of any study that compares the environmental performance of competing packages seems to have a lot to do with who pays for the study.
Also, a brief section called “Why recycle plastics?” should be required reading for processors and material suppliers. The Cliffs Notes version: Recycling saves energy and natural resources, reduces pollution and creates jobs. Why don't recycling advocates emphasize these points?
Still, the real impact of the report will be in its conclusions. On that front you can be sure the plastics industry will feel some heat. The report has an activist tone throughout, and certainly will result in changes to several state laws that currently cover container recycling and recycled content in trash bags.
One section, for example, argues against a boost in landfill tipping fees because such a move would not “be an adequate pricing signal passed through to manufacturers to reduce wastes.” Later, the report instead favorably considers a proposal to charge manufacturers some sort of fee based on their sales of plastics goods in California, “which would then be used to fund new plastic policy initiatives.” Such a fee could be voluntary, and “would be much simpler to implement than an advance-disposal fee on individual products or packages sold in the state.”
Would anyone like to predict how much of the payments actually would go to plastics-related programs, whether they actually would be voluntary, and whether a state-managed system could be done “simply”?
Processors concerned by these sorts of changes would be smart to get up to speed on the issue right away — and to let CIWMB know about their concerns.