A coalition of environmental groups made a renewed call on June 26 for California lawmakers to pass what would be the country's most far-reaching plastics legislation, ahead of a June 30 deadline to either approve the plan or move forward with a separate plastics ballot referendum in November.
The environmental groups, including Oceana and Ocean Conservancy, touted changes made to the bill late on June 24, saying they would strengthen the legislation, which was unveiled June 16.
But it's not clear if those changes, which came from talks between some key lawmakers, will ultimately be enough to overcome concerns from other interested groups, including a separate coalition of environmental groups pushing for tougher language.
June 30 looms as a key date because it's the last day for supporters of the referendum to withdraw it from the November ballot.
It sets up high stakes talks in the Legislature in coming days. Industry groups have generally been wary of the referendum, preferring a legislative solution to a costly and uncertain ballot fight in a state where voters adopted a plastic bag ban by ballot in 2016.
Hoping to build momentum, one coalition of environmental groups that supports the current plan, known as Senate Bill 54, hailed the changes made June 24.
"We are very grateful to Sen. Ben Allen, Assembly Natural Resources Chair Luz Rivas, their staff, and those who pressed for further environmental protections that made this bill even stronger," said Amy Wolfrum, California ocean policy senior manager with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
"We are on the precipice of adopting an even stronger version of SB 54 that protects our ecosystems and communities across the state, but also forces the plastics industry to acknowledge and pay for the harm done to both," said Alexis Jackson, associate director of The Nature Conservancy's California oceans program.
The American Chemistry Council declined to comment on the latest iteration of the legislation but said June 17 that it would continue to negotiate with lawmakers and called the ballot measure misguided.
The bill, which likely faces hearings and votes in legislative committees ahead of June 30, has had several sticking points, including how to handle expanded polystyrene.
The three Californians who formally filed the referendum, and who are all active in environmental policy circles, have written to state leaders that they prefer a ban on EPS like that in the referendum before they would withdraw it from the ballot.
One member of a second group of environmental organizations said the changes unveiled June 24 were not enough.
"The amended version of SB 54 still has significant problems and will not do nearly enough to effectively address the plastic pollution problems," said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics.
Her group and others, including Californians Against Waste, have pushed for the plan to give the state agency CalRecycle more authority around extended producer responsibility language, as well as not counting chemical recycling technologies toward recycling goals.
Earlier versions of SB54 nearly passed the Legislature in previous years but fell victim to complex negotiations. The possibility of voters approving the referendum and its 1-cent fee on single-use plastics, however, is creating more momentum this year for a bill to potentially pass.
Supporters of SB54 as its currently written say they like that it requires companies to reduce single-use plastic packaging and foodware by 25 percent by 2032 and require companies to pay $500 million a year for 10 years into an environmental mitigation fund.
The legislation would also require all plastic packaging to meet a 65 percent recycling rate by 2032, would limit plastics-to-fuel and related technologies from being counted as recycling, and would ban EPS by 2025 unless industry can demonstrate a 25 percent recycling rate.
One supporter of the current version of SB54, in a June 25 tweet, noted that local governments in California also support the legislation.
"This is [an] 'all hands on deck' moment to pass #SB54," wrote Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the National Stewardship Action Council. "It's the most important and powerful waste reduction, recycling, and nature/community [restoration] measure ever in the U.S."