California lawmakers are moving ahead on plans that could dramatically reshape how plastic packaging is regulated in the state, with final votes on two pieces of legislation possible in coming days.
The most far-reaching proposal would potentially require 75 percent recycling rates for single-use plastics and some plastic-lined paper packaging by 2030. A second would mandate 75 percent recycled content in PET bottles, also phased in by 2030.
Both bills passed preliminary votes by comfortable margins and have been the focus of behind-the-scenes negotiations in recent weeks, as the state Legislature faces hard deadlines on action. New versions could be unveiled in coming days.
Industry groups, while saying they agree with goals of boosting recycling and reducing waste, argue that the targets are unrealistic.
Environmental groups and local governments, on the other hand, held a rally in Sacramento in August and want lawmakers to push ahead with what they call a comprehensive framework around plastic waste.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted to legislators Sept. 4, urging them to pass the single-use plastic and paper packaging legislation, known by its Senate and Assembly bill numbers, SB 54 and AB 1080.
"The longer we go without taking action to reduce single-use packaging pollution, the more it costs the environment [and] local government," Steinberg wrote.
Both the single-use plastic bill and the recycled content PET bottle legislation passed on preliminary votes in May. In late August, they cleared key appropriations committee hurdles to set up final votes by a legislative deadline of Sept. 13.
But as is typical in end-of-session maneuvering, new versions could be introduced in coming days reflecting ongoing talks with industry and environmental groups.
If passed, Gov. Gavin Newsom would have until Oct. 13 to sign them.
In talks with lawmakers that have stretched over the last two months, industry groups have been urging changes.
A coalition that included the American Chemistry Council and the Plastics Industry Association, for example, said in an Aug. 19 letter that the "sweeping" bill would give too much authority to the state agency CalRecycle and was vague in definitions around "single-use."
ACC also said it drafted amendments that would allow companies to use life cycle data to demonstrate that plastic is the most efficient packaging choice, as a way to comply, and put all packaging materials "on a level playing field."
But indicating the seriousness of the coalition behind the bill, ACC also earlier this summer proposed a $100 million tax on some foodservice packaging, including plastic, to help pay for more recycling and composting infrastructure in California.
A new industry coalition, Californians for Recycling and the Environment, formed in June and also opposes the single-use plastics bill as currently outlined.
"The targets set by this bill are simply infeasible, do nothing to encourage the use of recycled content to build up our domestic recycling market and provides no long-term funding strategy to support a robust, effective recycling system," said CRE spokesman Micah Grant. "While we share the mutual goal of protecting the environment, the Legislature should hit the pause button to ensure consumers will still be able to afford the products they've come to rely on and that the legislation can accomplish what it sets out to do."
The group includes the Flexible Packaging Association and plastic bag maker Novolex Holdings Inc., along with civil rights groups the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and the National Action Network.
But local governments and environmental organizations say the bills, which would be among the most far-reaching in the United States, are needed.
They argue that setting phased-in targets over a decade is a flexible approach that gives companies time to adjust with new products. The legislation would require CalRecycle, with input, to develop a plan by 2024, when recycling rate requirements start kicking in at 20 percent.
"We need to act and we need to do more than one-off product bans," said state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, one of the lead authors. "AB 1080 takes a comprehensive approach to the plastics problem."
The bill said California cities spend more than $400 million a year cleaning up litter, noted that less than 15 percent of the state's single-use plastics are currently recycled and said China's 2017 ban on recycled scrap imports has been an additional blow to city budgets.