WASHINGTON (Jan. 30, 1:05 p.m. ET) — Plastic bag bans won't be the only issue on the state and local legislative fronts that the plastics industry will have to contend with this year.
A number of communities are looking to enact bans on polystyrene takeout containers, several states are considering adopting extended producer responsibility laws, and numerous states — faced with budget problems — are looking to increase their revenues by enacting taxes on businesses.
There are also issues at the state level that involve access to energy and the cost of energy. A number of states, including California, Washington and Maine, have “green chemistry” initiatives under way that could
lead to regulation of chemicals and substances “important to the plastics industry,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council in Washington.
That's on top of the efforts in communities to ban plastic products, he said.
“There will continue to be product deselection challenges,” added Russell. “Communities will want to tax or ban certain plastic items — whether it's bags, film or polystyrene.”
For example, in California, the cities of Mountain View, Los Altos and San Carlos, and Santa Clara County are currently looking to join more than 50 communities in that state that already have PS takeout container bans. In addition, there is still pending in the California Legislature a two-year bill, S568, that would ban the containers.
To combat that, Russell said ACC plans to work to “increase the awareness of recycling and what can be done with those materials, and build a broader base of support.”
Also rising quickly on the state horizon is the specter of extended producer responsibility laws. New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Iowa have already introduced EPR bills, and Oregon is considering doing the same.
The plastics industry is not against the concept of extended producer responsibility — but it doesn't see the need for legislation.
“We don't need EPR to take our responsibilities seriously,” said Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. “We are trying to bring to the forefront all the things the industry has done,” such as cutting the waste in packaging, “so the legislators can see it. We are encouraging the industry” to deliver those messages as well.
The concern over EPR legislative initiatives is their potential scope, SPI said.
“It all comes back to practicality,” said Jon Kurrle, senior vice president of government and industry affairs for Washington-based SPI. “A lot of these bills that have been proposed are so broadly worded that it is confusing as to who would have the responsibility.”
“Our concern is that a broadly written bill could get through, and then one of two things or both could happen,” he said. “A state agency charged with implementation could have carte blanche, or it evolves to legal action in the courts as to what the law and its definitions mean.”
The industry will also be keeping its eyes on legislative and regulatory efforts in states and at the federal level related to the extraction of natural gas from shale deposits, and to anything that affects the supply or cost of energy.
“Access to natural gas as a feedstock and as energy for manufacturing plants is critical,” said Russell of ACC. “It is a game-changer. ACC is going to be very active in communicating the role and importance of natural gas to this industry and how [increasing access to natural gas from shale deposits] can lead to economic growth, job growth and plastics industry growth.”
“We want to make sure that as governments address the environmental concerns about the extraction of natural gas from shale deposits, the rules to protect natural resources are effective and enforceable, but also allow the industry to move forward,” Russell said.
Natural gas isn't the only energy issue confronting plastic manufacturers. Energy costs of all types also loom large.
“Energy costs are going to be huge” in California, said Laurie Hansen, an independent lobbyist who is also executive director of the Western Plastics Association, formerly known as the California Film Extruders and Converters Association.
“California has a requirement that one-third of the state's power has to come from renewable energy by 2020, so utilities are already gearing up for the investments that they will need to make and asking utilities commissions for rate increases,” she said.
Hansen said WPA will gain greater insight into what types of increases plastic manufacturers in California might expect when an official from Southern California Edison speaks at the WPA meeting in March.
Outside the U.S., the European Union will be reviewing the scope and status of its REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) chemical-management regulation this summer.
To underscore what could happen if regulations become too far-reaching, SPI will be putting on an event in Brussels “about what a day without plastics would look like,” Carteaux said.
On another global front, when SPI officials are in New Delhi from Feb. 1-8 for the Plastindia show, Kurrle said SPI plans to speak with government officials about that country's efforts to rein in the use of colors and pigments in plastic drinking containers.