Expect the environmental barrage on the plastics industry - which revved up to full speed in 2006 after several years of relative quiet - to continue in 2007, with California leading the way with product bans, litter restrictions and mandated cleanup efforts.
``We will continue to make our case, but there will always be looming on the horizon some sort of onerous bill,'' said Tim Shestek, chief lobbyist in Sacramento for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council of Arlington. Va.
Last year, California rejected a statewide ban on expanded polystyrene takeout containers, as well as bans, levies, taxes and fines on the use of plastic bags at supermarkets and retail establishments.
But six cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, enacted PS bans, and San Francisco banned toys and products for infants under age 3 that contain bisphenol-A and phthalates. A court hearing is scheduled for January on a lawsuit asking that the bisphenol-A ban - which has not yet gone into effect - be overturned.
At the top of the list of 2007 of legislative possibilities in California: a potential statewide ban on PS at restaurants, marine litter and resin pellet spill issues; and bans on plastics that contain chemicals linked to potential health problems.
``I have heard rumblings that the ban on polystyrene takeout containers might surface again at the state level, but this time be designed to outlaw their use at not just state facilities, but both public and private facilities,'' similar to the bills that several cities adopted last year, said Shestek. ``And I think the marine debris issue is going to come up again.''
``California will continue to be very busy,'' said Jane Adams, director of state government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. ``They will continue to look at ways and means to improve their life and ask whether there are better alternatives to things they are currently using and are there more environmentally friendly products that are more sustainable.''
But California won't be the only state looking at litter and environmental issues related to plastics. A bill that would mandate 25 percent recycled content for all rigid plastic containers in New Jersey is still alive and Oregon state representative Vickie Berger, whose father was instrumental in passing the Oregon soft drink bottle deposit bill in 1971, plans to introduce legislation to expand the bill to all water bottles and aluminum cans that contain noncarbonated beverages.
``I anticipate seeing some of the legislative momentum in California spreading to other states,'' Adams said. ``There is a broad movement surrounding the issue of sustainability, the use of resources and less waste.''
``The environmental movement has now filtered into the minds of the average Californian and the seeds of discontent will continue,'' wrote Laurie Hansen, a lobbyist for the plastics industry in the November 2006 newsletter of the California Film Extruders and Converters Association. ``The environmentalists have push[ed] their agendas into the mainstream of concern. We will continue to see issues surfacing in the legislature next year which may get more traction than in the past.''
Hansen told CFECA members that scrutiny could focus on health and safety, excessive packaging, health dangers of plastics and the eyesore caused by litter and marine debris across the state and waterways.
``Many issues discussed during 2006 will be back, and new trends to ban whole new segments of plastic products will continue,'' she wrote.
New Congress factor
Making the task more daunting for the plastics industry is the record turnover of 48 legislators in the state legislative ranks, courtesy of last November's elections.
``One thing that is an unknown is a whole crop of freshmen legislators,'' Shestek said. ``We have to get them up to speed on the issues,'' before the end of February, which is the deadline to introduce legislation in California.
``With that much change, a lot of old ideas get dredged up,'' said one industry executive who is expecting to encounter legislative proposals that deal with resin pellet spills, storm-water debris, marine litter, as well as an attempt to enact a rigid packaging container law mandating 25 percent recycled content. That's in addition to the likelihood of another attempt to ban PS takeout containers.
``I think they will start with polystyrene and add language to extend the ban to all nonbiodegradable plastics,'' the executive said.
Michael Levy, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group and the EPS Resin Suppliers Group of the plastics division of the ACC, said industry has to get lawmakers to ``challenge the presumption that a ban on plastic food-service products will be better for the environment and actually reduce litter or marine debris problems.''
But one industry executive said the plastics industry needs to come up with solutions and abandon its tack of attacking corn-based polymers and the issue of compostability. ``It is not good the way some people are bashing biodegradables. This state and other states are gearing toward compostability.''
The other big-ticket item on the environmental agenda will be health issues as they relate to plastics, said Shestek. ``The bisphenol-A issue will percolate up at the state level. But that is obviously very controversial and the timing of the lawsuit in San Francisco may dissuade that. People may want to see how that plays out.''
With regard to resin spills, Shestek said he would like to ``see the state and the industry find opportunities to work together on that issue and deal with it through a partnership rather than through legislation.''
``No one wants to see resin discharges or see those dollars go down the drain,'' Shestek said. ``The industry could use some help in terms of enforcement.''