California lawmakers passed the country's toughest plastics pollution and recycling plan June 30, setting a 65 percent recycling rate target and putting in place an extended producer responsibility system for packaging.
The Legislature's vote, which passed with bipartisan margins, creates a system that could have a major impact on plastic packaging. It calls for a 25 percent reduction in single-use plastics and requires companies to pay $500 million a year for a decade into an environmental cleanup fund.
Importantly, it also cleared the way for a key political horse trade.
Supporters of a parallel referendum on the November ballot, which would have put a 1-cent tax on single-use plastics and banned expanded polystyrene, said they would withdraw their initiative if the legislation became law.
The presence of that ballot measure hanging over the legislative talks drove all sides to compromise and create what supporters said would be the most far-reaching plan in the U.S.
But the ballot organizers, who were less enamored of the legislation than other environmentalists, also cautioned in their statement of likely fights ahead.
The referendum organizers, led by three Californians with decades of work on environmental and waste management issues, pointed to a June 29 statement from the American Chemistry Council as evidence the plastics industry will seek to undo the law, known as Senate Bill 54.
"It is clear from today's ACC statement that the hope and promise around SB-54 may quickly dissolve into what we have experienced from the plastics industry in the past: deception, blame, and false promises," the referendum organizers said. "The signs of what comes next are troubling."
They said they felt ACC would seek through legislation or lawsuits to undo parts of the massive compromise bill around chemical recycling and source reduction.
But ACC's Vice President of Plastics Joshua Baca pushed back on the ballot organizers' statement.
"Petitioners of the ballot initiative released a statement yesterday inaccurately questioning our intent to work collaboratively on the implementation of SB-54," Baca said. "Nobody got everything they wanted in SB-54, but we remain steadfast in our belief that all stakeholders can do more to benefit California by working on constructive solutions rather than attacking each other."
Industry groups including ACC and the Plastics Industry Association generally favored the legislation over the ballot plan. Likewise, some environmentalists and lawmakers felt a legislative solution was preferable to the expense and uncertainty of a statewide ballot campaign.
"A state law is easier to refine than a ballot measure that's passed by the voters," said state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, the lead author of SB-54.