The plastics industry got a sobering look into the future of California plastics regulations Feb. 8, and it is one full of food-service packaging bans, more active enforcement to clean up plastic pellets and bans on products with suspected adverse health effects.
``We are going to see a battleground in California that we haven't seen since the 1990s,'' said Mark Murray, executive director of Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste. ``Plastics is front and center again. The state is going after plastic packaging and moving further in the direction of producer responsibility.''
``This is an extraordinary set of issues,'' said Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a member of the California Ocean Protection Council who criticized the plastics industry during the hearing for ``bad housekeeping and paralysis by analysis.''
``We need to lay out timetables and tasks,'' he said. ``We ought to urge the governor and legislature to encourage the elimination of the things that cause problems and outlaw things like [polystyrene] packaging. Life would go on.''
At a hearing on marine litter, OPC scrapped a plan it had spent eight months developing and adopted many recommendations submitted by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based environmental group focused on keeping Southern California coastal water safe and clean.
``I was a bit taken back by the way the council seemed to adopt verbatim the various amendments that Heal the Bay proposed,'' said Tim Shestek, chief lobbyist and director of state affairs in the Sacramento, Calif., office of the American Chemistry Council of Arlington, Va.
``It was clearly a quick and unexpected reversal. I am not aware of anyone from the broader business community that had a good handle on what Heal the Bay proposed, or any reasonable time to review these changes.''
In addition to the proposed expansion of California bottle bills to include more plastics found in marine waters, he said he is concerned about ``targeted phase-outs of certain packaging, as well as products that contain certain chemicals.''
``No one was brought in to present any scientific testimony,'' said Shestek. ``It is a befuddling way to make policy, glossing over complex issues.''
Specifically, OPC gave its Marine Debris Steering Committee a mandate to develop by Dec. 1 plans to:
* Extend its container-redemption program or similar product-responsibility programs to include more plastics commonly found in marine debris, and to set targets and achieve goals no later than 2015.
* A phased-in ban of what it called ``most toxic types'' of plastic packaging, including any that contain styrene, bisphenol A, perfluorooctanic acid, vinyl chloride, nonylphenols and alkylphenols, with a complete ban to be achieved no later than 2015.
* Reduce plastic pellets and create an enforcement provision, with targeted reductions to be achieved no later than 2009.
By Jan. 1, the committee was ordered to:
* Set coastwide goals for marine debris reduction in conjunction with the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health.
* Propose joint litter-reduction targets for plastic single-use, fast-food and convenience store packaging and containers.
* Consider European Union chemical regulations restricting the use of plastics and additives including phthalates, bisphenol A, styrene, perfluorooctanic acid, vinyl chloride, nonylphenols and alkylphenols.
* Propose handling requirements for pre-production plastic pellets and enforcement for violations.
In addition, the committee was ordered to propose a statewide plan by June 1, 2008, to reduce use of plastic single-use, fast-food and convenience store packaging.
CAW's Murray said he expects to see a legislative effort again this year to pass a polystyrene take-out packaging ban that would require all such containers to be either recyclable or compostable.
OPC was formed two years ago by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to set ocean policies and coordinate the actions of dozen of state agencies. Some of OPC's proposals would require legislative action, but others can be achieved through existing agencies.
The council presented data and testimony contending that 60-80 percent of all marine debris and 90 percent of floating marine debris is plastics.