A potentially landmark California law that would have required single-use packaging and plastics to reach a 75 percent recycling rate to be sold in the state, died in the wee hours of the state Legislature’s session.
An early morning Sept. 14 tweet from Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, D-City of Industry, said the legislation didn’t have enough support to pass on the last day of the session, but will be reintroduced when lawmakers convene in January.
“We weren’t able to get the votes necessary this late hour for #SB54,” he wrote, using its Senate bill number. “But rest assured, we will be back in January to get this bill to the Governor’s desk.”
Calderon’s comment was retweeted by one of the main authors of the proposal, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. Under the legislature’s rules, bills had to pass both chambers by the close of the Sept. 13 voting day, which stretched into the early morning hours on Sept. 14.
The single-use packaging legislation was the subject of fierce last-minute negotiations, with shifting positions from industry groups as changes were made.
When it was introduced earlier this year, the bill targeted single-use plastics, but was broadened Sept. 6 to include all types of single-use packaging.
The legislation, which would have been the most comprehensive in the U.S., would have started with a 30 percent recycling rate requirement in 2026.
It came close to passing, getting through several preliminary votes. But the plan also faced strong opposition from some business groups, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
GMA CEO Geoff Freeman said in a Sept. 10 op-ed in the Orange County Register that it would “create a dysfunctional regulatory behemoth.”
Freeman wrote that while the U.S. and the world “face a growing crisis around plastic waste” and the consumer product companies in GMA are committed to more sustainable packaging, he urged state lawmakers to scrap their plan and start again.
He said the state’s recycling system is already under great financial stress, with more than 50 percent of its bottle bill redemption centers closing since 2013, before this plan. GMA said 80 percent of consumer product goods companies have committed to make all of their packaging recyclable by 2030.
But the CEO of a prominent waste management and recycling company in the state, Recology Inc., said the bill would have helped the stressed recycling system. In his own op-ed in California media in the days before the final vote, he said plastics and consumer goods industries have only “paid lip service to the issue.”
“While the plastics and packaging industry continues to evade forward thinking policy reforms that address their single-use packaging and products, a coalition of local governments, environmentalists and recyclers have stepped forward to promote landmark [California] legislation,” said Michael Sangiacomo, CEO of San Francisco-based Recology, which provides waste management to about a million homes and businesses.
While the bill was defeated in this year’s sessions, it or similar proposals seem likely to continue to get prominent attention in California politics.
Earlier this year, Sangiacomo wrote to plastics industry leaders, saying his company would spend $1 million for a California ballot referendum on creating a European Union style plastics packaging regulation in the state, arguing that much plastic waste is not economical to manage.
The defeated legislation would have tasked a California state agency, CalRecycle, with writing detailed regulations over the next four years.
The law -- which would have also required the packaging industry to reduce its waste generated by 75 percent by 2030 through source reduction, recycling and composting -- split industry groups.
After the Sept. 6 changes making the bill material neutral, The American Chemistry Council and its plastics division dropped its opposition and moved to a neutral position on the bill, as did prominent consumer goods companies Procter & Gamble Co. and SC Johnson. Dow Inc. formally supported the bill, as did many environmental groups and local governments in the state.
ACC in a Sept. 14 statement urged lawmakers to keep working on the issue and noted industry commitments to have all plastic packaging recyclable, recoverable or reusable by 2040, and the $1.5 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
But other industry groups remained opposed. The Plastics Industry Association said the plan did not address current infrastructure problems. A new group, Californians for Recycling and the Environment, that included plastic bag and flexible packaging companies, also opposed the law, as did some waste hauling companies.
Gonzalez, one of the proposal’s chief authors, told a Sept. 10 hearing that lawmakers understand that recycling infrastructure needs more support, but see the single-use packaging proposal as a first step toward larger goals.
“We know that in order to create the type of environment where we invest in that infrastructure, we have to create goals,” she said.
In another plastics recycling legislative development, California lawmakers did pass a mandatory minimum content law for PET beverage bottles, in an early morning Sept. 14 vote.
The measure, Assembly Bill 792, phases in recycled content requirements for PET and other bottles covered by the state deposit program. The most recent drafts of the bill would start at 10 percent in 2021 and rise to 50 percent recycled content by 2030.