Large plastic packaging maker Berry Global Group Inc. is coming out against campaigns by its plastics industry peers for state laws that take away the power of local governments to ban or tax packaging.
Passing those laws has been an important political priority for plastic bag makers in particular, along with retail stores and restaurants. But it's come with blowback: Coke and Pepsi, for example, recently left the Plastics Industry Association after Greenpeace pressured them over the issue.
Now Berry, one of the founding members of the industry's $1 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste and active in sustainability programs, is suggesting that the industry should stop supporting preemption laws.
In a nuanced Aug. 21 statement, the company said it opposed bans on plastic products but also said it did not want to support laws it sees as taking away a city's ability to make its own decisions.
"We believe bans are a broad-brush approach that does not address the root cause," Berry said. "That being said, we also believe in protecting the rights of communities to govern themselves. Neither bans nor preemption offer a thoughtful and productive solution."
Whatever side you're on, preemption around packaging is a hot political topic.
Three states — North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee — passed preemption laws this year, bringing the number of states with laws stopping cities from banning or taxing plastic or other packaging to at least 14.
It's been controversial in the courts, too: An appellate court in Florida last week upheld that state's preemption law, overturning a ban on expanded polystyrene containers in Coral Gables.
Berry's statement is the first by a large plastics processing company questioning preemption and another sign of debate within industry over how to respond to plastics-related legislation in cities and states.
The trade association for the plastic bag industry, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, sharply defends preemption, which it calls uniformity. It says statewide decisions are better than hundreds of different city regulations.
"We believe statewide uniformity is important for the same reason as those who are working hard to ban products: A patchwork of ordinances is not good for anyone," Matt Seaholm, executive director of the APBA, said.
But the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association, the parent organization for APBA, declined to endorse preemption.
"Plastics [as the group calls itself] does not lobby to enact preemption laws and has no official position on preemption," said Patty Long, interim president and CEO. "Our primary focus is to work together with our members, NGOs and municipalities across the country to ensure that our waste management infrastructure can keep pace with today's plastics economy."
APBA is part of Long's group, but it is entirely self-funded by the plastic bag industry.