For the second year in a row, a far-reaching plastics packaging bill that would have required a 75 percent recycling or composting rate died in the final hours of California's legislative session.
The measure had passed the state Senate Aug. 30 but fell four votes short of what it needed to clear the state Assembly Aug. 31, the last day for legislation to pass in the 2020 session.
The bill's defeat, however, does not end the issue. Advocates said their focus will now shift to a statewide ballot that would ask voters to put a tax on single-use plastic to fund recycling and cleanup, a referendum similar to the plastic bag ban California's electorate approved in 2016.
The legislation that failed Aug. 31, the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, would have required producers of single-use plastic packaging and some foodservice items to achieve a 75 percent recycling or composting rate for their products by 2032.
It also would have required that those products be completely recyclable or compostable by 2032.
The news website Calmatters.org said many Democrats in the assembly sat out the vote, as supporters of the bill like Sierra Club and Californians Against Waste urged their members on social media to contact legislative offices in a last effort to win votes.
In the end, the bill got 37 votes in support but needed 41 to pass the 80-member chamber. In the Senate a day earlier, the bill passed with 23 votes, two more than it needed. Democrats control both chambers by wide margins.
It's not clear what comes next for the legislation, which was first introduced last year by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica.
Allen and the Sierra Club both said on Twitter Sept. 1 that focus will now shift to a referendum on single-use plastics packaging that's likely to go in front of voters in 2022. It would put a 1-cent fee on plastic packaging to fund recycling and environmental cleanup.
It also includes a statewide ban on expanded polystyrene food containers and requires cutting the amount of single-use plastic sold in the state by 25 percent by 2030.
"I'm sorry your legislature couldn't deliver," Allen wrote. "Now let's harness the energy of the people to pass the plastics initiative, coming to a ballot near you in 2022."
California voters adopted a statewide plastic bag ban in a referendum vote in 2016, and the campaigns for and against the 2022 plastics initiative seem likely to be much stronger than the 2016 vote over just over bags.
In a floor speech before the vote, Gonzalez said single-use plastic currently costs cities and counties too much to clean up and recycle.
"No one is saying that these items don't have a use, but we are not being honest with ourselves about their end of life, and it's past time to do something about it," she said. "Without comprehensive reform, we will continue to throw our single use plastics in the recycling bin … but they will only end up in the landfill or incinerated."