As current president of the California Film Extruders & Converters Association, I found your Viewpoint (“San Francisco board turning back time,” Page 6) in the Nov. 27 issue accurate, for the most part.
I agree that:
* The issues facing society regarding green products and how best to protect the world's natural resources are very complicated.
* Due to this complexity, there are no simple answers for society or the plastics industry.
* Litter issues will not be solved by the introduction of “biodegradable” packaging based on current technologies being marketed today. There is also an unavoidable conflict between biodegradable and bio-based plastics and recycling programs.
* Plastic garbage in the ocean and waterways is quickly gaining the headlines and building anti-plastic momentum.
We also know that politicians require simple solutions to every problem because they don't have the patience, or in many cases, the desire to truly solve problems. Politicians passing “feel-good” legislation that ultimately exacerbates the problem and costs taxpayers more in the long run is not exclusive to California or San Francisco.
Where we disagree is with your final statement that “… no one on the West Coast seems to be paying attention.” Granted, your article was focused on the polystyrene industry, so with respect to those products there may indeed have been little protest from industry.
The problem plaguing the entire plastic industry, however, is not our lack of attention. The problem is the lack of consolidated support by a broad coalition within the plastics industry for initiatives that are already in place. A consolidated voice coming not just from California but from Washington and other parts of the country would serve to derail these kinds of myopic and off-base actions before they ever gain momentum in the first place.
The film and bag industry has fewer problems fighting legislation because of organizations like CFECA. In the past three years, CFECA has been active in preventing several pieces of legislation from being passed that would have negatively impacted the polyethylene bag business.
In the most recent legislative session, a bill was passed obligating big-box retailers to return plastic bags. The goal was to increase recycling and decrease the use of single-use plastic bags. In its initial form, the bill would have been bad for the plastics industry and would have had minimal positive impact on the environment.
Through our lobbying efforts, CFECA was successful in working with Californians Against Waste, a historically anti-plastic organization, to add language to the bill which would include reusable plastic bags as part of the legislation.
By requiring stores to offer reusable plastic bags for sale, the industry now has the opportunity to use the returned plastic and sell multiuse bags that can be made in part from the plastic being recycled and other post-consumer resin.
The win-win is for consumers to use reusable plastic bags that are made from recycled material. That makes plastic part of the solution, plus it creates a new market for recycled plastic. That is what is missing if we want to divert plastics away from landfills.
Let's not forget that it was the Progressive Bag Alliance, which primarily comprises CFECA members, that fought hard to defeat proposed San Francisco and Los Angeles ordinances that could have taxed plastic bags out of existence in those cities.
Finally, in 2006 CFECA introduced a landmark accreditation program, EPR (epraccredited.org), which is the strongest statement industry can make that we understand and accept our responsibility to be environmental stewards.
EPR-accredited companies will, at the very least, be addressing the marine debris issue, which rests squarely on the back of industry.
A key component of the EPR accreditation is pellet containment, which is argued to be a key component of the marine debris problem. The pellet-loss issue is important because industry emits pellets while consumers are responsible for littering.
The EPR accreditation addresses pellet loss through the adoption of the Operation Clean Sweep program developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. This is an example of organizations collaborating to the benefit of both the industry and the environment.
If every conscientious plastics manufacturer signed up for an EPR audit, or at the very least implemented OCS, this would make a strong statement about how our industry does care about the environment. It would also positively impact the environment and silence our critics who suggest we aren't doing anything.
The problem isn't whether industry is paying attention in California. The problem is whether anyone in the industry outside of California really cares to be part of the solution. Without members of industry supporting our own industry-generated programs, our apathy sends a strong message that perhaps we really do need to be policed.
In addition to being president of CFECA in Newport Beach, Calif., Peter Grande is president of Command Packaging in Vernon, Calif.