California may scrap its plastic trash bag recycling law, replacing it with an expanded effort that would target other plastic film uses, like agriculture and construction.
The state's Integrated Waste Management Board wants to drop requirements that plastic trash bags use recycled content and instead put the requirements on industries that it says use more plastic film.
California state officials say it is part of an effort to take a more comprehensive approach to plastic film recycling, and they unveiled their proposal to industry executives at an Oct. 27 forum at the agency's headquarters in Sacramento.
Plastics industry officials questioned the state's focus on putting recycled plastic back into film, urging the board to focus instead on helping to put recycled film into longer-lasting applications, like plastic lumber and plastic railroad ties.
Supporters credit the state's 10-year-old trash bag law with boosting recycling. But critics point to unintended consequences, such as forcing manufacturers to make thicker bags to compensate for poor-quality recycled material, thereby increasing the amount of material sent to landfills.
Board officials say they would support eliminating the trash bag requirements, if a better system could be developed. As a first step, the agency wants to shift its focus onto agriculture, construction and stretch wrap applications.
If the waste board succeeds, manufacturers and wholesalers that do not comply with the law would be taxed an unspecified amount, and proceeds would fund film recycling programs, according to Michael Leaon, supervisor of the board's plastics recycling technologies section.
Previously, board officials floated a tax on all film makers, but now they want to tax only noncompliant manufacturers.
The board is proposing new compliance options, including source reduction and biodegradable bags. The agency also wants to change the gauge of regulated bags from 0.7-mil thickness to 1 mil. The thicker film is used in agriculture and other applications, and could more easily accommodate recycled content, agency officials said.
Frank Ruiz, head of the California Film and Bag Alliance and technical director for Heritage Bag Co. in Carrollton, Texas, said the board's recommendations are too simple, and they do not consider difficulties in the marketplace, such as finding enough material.
``It just seems to me that this report was put together without a lot of thinking through these issues,'' he said.
State officials challenged industry to come up with other suggestions, and said that only about 20,000 tons of plastic film are recycled each year in the state, out of about 1.5 million tons of plastic film sent to landfills.
Industry officials recommended more emphasis on durable goods, like plastic lumber, more education and cooperative efforts with industry and government, and more work on assuring that the quality of plastic film collected can be channelled back into recycled products.
Mark Murray, executive director of the environmental group Californians Against Waste in Sacramento, suggested that the state could set specific recycling targets, and let industry design a system to meet them. As an incentive, any taxes on bag makers could be delayed for several years while the new recycling infrastructure is put in place, he said.
Waste board officials pledged to continue talking with industry and environmental groups about their plans. Any changes that the board proposes would have to be approved by the state Legislature.