The narrow margins of passage for three plastics-related bills in California could signal an uncertain future for the laws.
SB 1625, which would expand the existing bottle deposit bill to include all plastic bottles, narrowly passed the Senate 21-18 May 29 and now moves to the Assembly. Similarly, AB 2505, which would ban PVC packaging, but with numerous exemptions, also was approved 41-36 in the Assembly on May 29 and now moves to the Senate.
A third bill, AB 2058, which would amend the existing plastic bag recycling bill to establish recycling targets of 70 percent and require retailers to charge a fee of no less than 25 cents on paper and plastic bags, starting in 2011, passed the Assembly 44-33. Committee hearings on all three bills are expected in mid-June.
``The PVC bill got the bare minimum number of votes it needed,'' said Tim Shestek, director of state affairs and grassroots initiatives in Sacramento, Calif., for the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council. ``The expanded bottle bill just made it through, too.''
But the leading advocate for the bills, Californians Against Waste in Sacramento, took a different perspective. The bottle bill ``cleared a big hurdle,'' said Mark Murray, executive director of CAW in a statement, noting that expansion of the bottle bill is the top priority of the California Ocean Protection Council.
Similarly, he said the bag bill would institute ``the toughest-in-the-nation litter abatement law for carryout bags [and] give local governments the option to charge fees on plastic bags immediately.''
Shestek pointed to what he considers flaws in each of the bills.
``There is a huge disconnect in the PVC bill with all of its exemptions,'' he said. ``You can't allege that something is toxic in some products and not in others.''
The bill would exempt PVC packaging used for fuels, lubricants, fuel additives, prescription and over-the-counter drugs and medical-device containers, including injectable medicines.
``A lot of people recognize the absurdity of that. I think that will resonate with the members of the Senate,'' Shestek said. ``The main point we are up against is the green culture we find ourselves in. There are some senators who are nervous about casting a vote that could be perceived as anti-green.''
There also is uncertainty with the bottle bill, with several sources suggesting the Senate plans to narrow its scope considerably. The House-passed measure would extend the current container redemption value program in California to any consumer product in a plastic bottle, potentially adding another 6.3 billion bottles to the deposit program.
``The breadth of the bill is a problem because it would include everything from bleach and laundry products to ketchup bottles and other food containers,'' Shestek said. ``How will the current infrastructure be able to handle the influx of bottles,'' particularly those contaminated with solvents or cleaning products, he asked.
Shestek estimated the state would have to hire more than 230 employees to handle the administrative requirements alone. ``That is a huge expansion of the bureaucracy,'' which he said was unneeded, as upward of 70 percent of residents in California have access to curbside recycling of those bottles.
As for the plastic bag bill, Shestek reiterated that the industry was ``flat-out opposed to the idea.''
``With rising food costs and fuel costs, the idea of having people pay 25 cents for a paper or plastic bag doesn't make sense,'' he said. Second, a recycling target set for plastic bags of 70 percent by the end of 2010 simply isn't realistic.
``We would look at other thresholds if they are more realistic,'' Shestek said. ``But I don't think it is realistic for bag recycling to achieve that 70 percent recycling rate in a year-and-one-half.''
His reasoning? That high of a recycling rate hasn't even been achieved in the mandated bottle deposit program in California that is more than 20 years old.
In 2007, the PET container recycling rate was 54 percent, according to a report released May 21 by the California Department of Conservation.