California lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would bump up the required recycled content in plastic bottles for beverage companies to keep getting a break on state fees.
State senators are considering SB 732, which would require a minimum of 10 percent recycled content for all plastic beverage bottles sold in California starting in 2017. In the Assembly version of the bill, the 10 percent content requirement applies to PET bottles and food containers. It also would extend the current 35 percent minimum recycled content requirement on glass to all glass bottles filled in California, not just those made in California.
Last week, a Senate committee voted 1-0 in favor of the bill but at least four votes in favor are required to move it forward.
Bottle bills in other states charge consumers a deposit that is refunded by the retailer when the containers are returned. But California's system requires beverage distributors to pay a recycling processing fee to CalRecycle.
A processing fee also is assessed on beverage manufacturers whose containers cost more to recycle than they are worth as scrap value. However, if predetermined container diversion rates are achieved, the state reduces the amount manufacturers must pay. It then dips into state funds from unclaimed deposits to make up the difference when it cuts checks to recycling companies.
However, years of widespread fraud has left the California Redemption Value program strapped for cash. The new bills up for consideration could help staunch the cash hemorrhage, says Californians Against Waste, the bills' sponsor, though it is a bit of a Catch-22.
“On one hand we need more money,” said CAW Executive Director Mark Murray. “On the other hand, we want people to use recycled content. The truth is we want just enough people to use recycled content. Because we do need more money.”
Some beverage companies would be impacted more than others under the legislation. Analysis accompanying the bills says Coca-Cola Co. averages about 6 percent recycled content in its PET bottles, PepsiCo reports using 10 percent for beverage containers and Nestle states that five of its brands use a range from 50 percent to 100 percent recycled PET.
If the bills pass, the changes would not necessarily solve the longer term problems of the state's bottle program, Murray said, but it would be a start, as well as a push for more recycled content in bottles. He also acknowledged that is a big “if.”
“But we have no analysis on the resin side,” Murray said. “So we have no idea how many manufactures could meet 10 percent on the plastic side or 35 percent on the glass side. If we can't answer that question then that bill is dead.”
The measures also face considerable opposition from the plastics and glass industries, though Murray said plastics industry trade groups the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Chemistry Council are misreading the bills.
In an April 10 letter, ACC expressed concern that the bills could “unnecessarily distort the existing recycling marketplace without justification.
“Currently, plastic material collected for recycling is used as feedstock for a variety of end use markets — for example containers, textile products, pipe, strapping and carpet manufacturing. Imposing an artificial mandate would divert this material away from these established markets that have already invested heavily in the recycling infrastructure,” the letter said. “Furthermore, it is not clear whether there is sufficient reclamation capacity available to meet this mandate. In other words, there may not be enough [post consumer recycled material] in the marketplace to meet the requirements of this bill.”
CalRecycles representatives said they could not comment on pending legislation.
The state Senate's Committee on Environmental Quality will meet again on SB 732 the first full week of May.