The referendum also may shift the political debate in California.
Plastics legislation favored by environmentalists could not cross the finish line in each of the last two years in Sacramento, but the threat of voters passing a tax may lead to more bargaining.
The plastics association said in written comments that it's hopeful a legislative compromise could be reached to avoid the referendum.
"I think both sides are still hoping to avoid an incredibly expensive ballot initiative fight when there is a lot of shared agreement that a comprehensive legislative solution would be the better route to take," said Matt Seaholm, the association's vice president of government affairs.
But CAW downplayed the idea of a legislative alternative, saying environmental groups are putting their attention toward the referendum.
"I'd say that all the proponents of the ballot measure will gladly review anything the industry puts forward, but at this point we are focused on passing the ballot measure," Lapis said.
It's not clear what legislative compromise could be reached that would satisfy both sides. Some industry groups have floated expensive initiatives.
The plastics association declined to comment on potential legislative fixes. Seaholm said that "the devil is in the details and that's why we feel a compromise that brings both sides together through legislative action is in the best interest of everyone."
But he added that "the industry is preparing for a variety of scenarios."
The environmental group Oceana, which has been heavily involved in California's debates, said it looked forward to the ballot.
"State leaders have missed opportunities to comprehensively combat plastic pollution, but now Californians have the power to enact change," said Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Pacific policy and communications manager. "We're excited that voters will have the opportunity to directly weigh in on this growing problem."
The American Chemistry Council and the Sacramento-based Western Plastics Association declined to comment on their plans.
The vote has been several years in the making. Supporters originally wanted it to be on the 2020 ballot, but the pandemic delayed signature gathering until this year.
The most prominent part of the referendum would give the state agency CalRecycle authority to put a tax of up to one penny on single-use plastics packaging, utensils and containers.
It would also ban food vendors from using expanded polystyrene containers and require CalRecycle to develop plans to try to cut single-use plastic waste by 25 percent by 2030.
Some products would be exempt from the tax, including single-use packaging for medical products, prescription drugs and infant formula.
A state government analysis said it's not clear how much money the tax would raise but estimated it could be several billion dollars a year.
Of the proceeds, 50 percent would go to state and local government recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts, and to boost supplies of recycled materials.
Thirty percent would go to mitigate past damage from plastic pollution, and 20 percent would be transferred to local governments to upgrade waste and recycling systems.