Plastics industry executives, accustomed to focusing on California as the center of the debate over plastic product bans, will need a wider scope of vision in 2008, as calls for product restrictions and outright bans and the outcry against plastics litter are spreading across the country.
``We expect to have our hands full at the state and local level,'' said Steve Russell, managing director of the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council, based in Arlington, Va.
``The legislative interest in plastics and the production of plastics has grown, and I don't see any evidence that it will decline,'' he said.
For example, communities in the San Francisco Bay area and coastal areas of California will continue to look at restrictions on expanded polystyrene takeout packaging, and numerous U.S. cities will look at plastic bag bans.
In Washington, state Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-King County, has filed an intention to propose that takeout packaging be recyclable or compostable, effectively banning PS food-service packaging.
``The bill is more far-reaching than what California has proposed,'' said John Burke, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute Inc. in Falls Church, Va.
First, the bill's definition of takeout-food providers, as written, could apply to grocers, health-care providers, convenience stores and bakeries - not just restaurants, he said. Second, the packaging would have to be accepted for composting or recycling in 60 percent of the city, county or state. Other possible bans:
* New Jersey has proposed a ban on plastic carryout bags at retailers with 10,000 square feet or more.
* Massachusetts has a bill under consideration, similar to the one adopted by California last year, that bans the use of phthalates in toys and child-care products for children under 3, starting in 2009.
* The California Science Advisory Board's Development and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee has requested that the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment review bisphenol A to determine whether warning labels are needed on plastic baby bottles, water bottles and reusable food containers.
* California's Ocean Protection Council is expected to develop several proposals to address marine debris, since its committee reports on that issue were completed in December. That is on top of proposals still pending in California to ban PS takeout packaging and products containing toxic chemicals, including BPA and phthalates.
``It is like a tsunami and the Rocky Mountains don't stop it,'' said Peter Jones, president of Wexco Corp. in Lynchburg, Va. ``Whether it starts on the West Coast or the East Coast, it starts moving to the middle.''
Also, in the discussions surrounding bans, there is little consideration given to the end result of what happens when one product is banned, according to Tim Shestek, ACC's director of state and local government affairs in Sacramento. However, Shestek agrees that there is ``too much litter, not enough recycling'' in the state.
``What are the environmental tradeoffs for encouraging more paper bags or compostable bags?'' he asked. ``It is important that cities undertake that analysis before they decide to ban a single product.
``If they go down the path, they ought to at least go down with their eyes open and at least understand what they are getting into,'' he said.
Mike Lynch, director of government affairs at Glenview, Ill-based manufacturer Illinois Tool Works Inc., finds the trend of copycat legislation alarming, particularly when communities attempt to adopt rules or laws that started in another country.
``Just to ban something because they did it in Europe doesn't fly,'' he said. ``It does not lend itself to the need to debate of how that law in Europe is going to work in the U.S. For other states to get on the bandwagon is dangerous. We have to be rational about our approach to how we ban such products.''
For example, producer responsibility - already a reality in the European Union and Canada - is one of the strategic objectives of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. And, the administration's Green Chemistry Initiative is working on a plan to manage chemicals that could be a model for producer responsibility and product selection or deselection.
``I don't know if anything will get through, but there will be a huge push for producer responsibility and responsible product stewardship,'' said Laurie Hansen, who handles government relations for the California Film Extruders and Converters Asso- ciation in Newport Beach.
``We are eager to see what the state plans to do in terms of evaluating chemicals in products and packaging and what are the criteria,'' said ACC's Shestek. ``In terms of due diligence, they need to evaluate the chemicals in the products that might be used as alternatives.''
Most of the environmental measures proposed in California in 2007 went further in the process than in the past, an ominous sign for the industry.
``There are a lot of nervous people that represent business interests in Sacramento that are not looking forward to the 2008 legislative session and Governor's actions,'' Hansen wrote in the November-December CFECA newsletter. ``They do believe that this will be an even more excruciatingly difficult year for business and manufacturing and that the environmental issues so far have been just `baby pabulum' compared to next year's  onslaught.''
It's not just cities and states, either.
Increasingly, retailers are taking voluntary action in light of public pressure to increase their environmental commitments. In late 2007, both Target and Sears took voluntary action to reduce PVC in packaging and children's products.
Two Canadian retailers stopped selling polycarbonate water bottles containing bisphenol A, and Whole Foods Market discontinued plastic takeout bags at its two stores in Austin, Texas, as a first step in its plan to adopt a similar policy nationwide next year.
``We need to continue to reinforce the realities of how to deal with food-container packaging in the waste stream,'' Shestek said. ``There are challenges with all food containers and the composting structure is very limited at this point.''
``Litter is what drives a lot of these proposals,'' Russell said. ``We need to be out there and get out the information that people need to put this issue in a complete perspective.'' That perspective looks at the entire environmental footprint of plastics, he said. ``We will be a leader and we will not shy away from anything.''
Burke agreed: ``If the issue is litter, let's take a look at what is really out there. Cities need to do a more in-depth analysis of the environmental footprint of competing materials and ask themselves whether they have made an effort to incorporate all plastics into their recycling programs.''
ACC last fall kicked off a $2.5 million public education campaign in California, held a conference on marine debris and started a partnership with the state parks to provide recycling containers at state beaches.
But a source inside the state capitol said the effort is viewed as ``a [public relations] push, not a program. There is too much pressure on legislators to be green and the plastics industry has got to give us something. They should be putting more of their bucks into anti-litter programs and doing cleanup.''
The industry is hoping the first plastic carryout-bag recycling statistics from the mandatory in-store recycling that began in California in July will lend support to its argument that the bags can be easily recycled.
``If the rates don't improve, our campaign is going to falter,'' said Andy DeVilling, vice president of sales and marketing in Highland Village, Texas, for StarPak Ltd., a Superbag Corp. company and a member of the Progressive Bag Alliance.
The plastic bag industry also is closely watching the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling, which has challenged a bag ban set to go into effect in Oakland on the grounds that the city failed to conduct an environmental impact study as required by law. The ban that became effective in San Francisco on Nov. 20 was not challenged in court.
``The lawsuit has served its purpose,'' said one environmental activist. ``It has made many communities hesitant'' to put product bans in place.
``Communities are taking a wait-and-see attitude depending on what happens with that legal case,'' Shestek said. ``I'm not sure smaller companies want to undertake the cost of an environment impact report.''
A case in point: Just the threat of a lawsuit prompted Fairfax, Calif., to make its scheduled PS takeout ban voluntary late last year. But nearby Richmond still is studying such a ban, with its report expected in early February.