California legislation that would have set up a task force to study potential environmental harm from alternatives to single-use plastic has been blocked by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said it duplicates efforts in other recycling laws.
But the author of the bill, state Senator Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach, said he will continue to push the idea, arguing that state guidance is needed to "get ahead of the curve" and not repeat problems seen with fossil-fuel based plastics.
The legislation, Senate Bill 665, tasked the California Environmental Protection Agency with creating a task force of state agencies to develop a framework by 2026 to evaluate single-use plastic alternatives to "prevent regrettable substitutions."
It passed both chambers of the state Legislature in nearly unanimous votes in September, but Newsom vetoed the measure in an Oct. 8 statement, in the waning days of this year's legislative session.
The governor said a separate law he signed last year creating extended producer responsibility regulations for packaging, known as Senate Bill 54, would do the same things.
"The creation of a new working group is unnecessary and duplicative of existing efforts within my administration," Newsom wrote, adding that SB 54 already requires state agencies to develop comprehensive regulations to move the state to a more circular economy and includes "aggressive goals to reduce single-use plastic in this state."
"This work, coupled with other administration efforts, will provide insight for the same policy objectives this bill seeks to achieve," he wrote.
SB 54, which was also spearheaded by Allen, requires companies to finance and join organizations to recycle 65 percent of single-use packaging and reduce single-use plastics in the state by 25 percent by 2032.
Given California's market size, it was seen as a major change in U.S. packaging policy.
Allen, however, said SB 665 was still needed to give the state better tools to evaluate new packaging.
"As we reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, history tells us that innovative alternatives are almost certainly going to be produced. We are seeing some already," Allen said in an email. "The goal of SB 665 was to get us ahead of the curve by developing a framework to assess the full lifecycle of these alternatives in order to prevent the suite of problems stemming from the production, use and disposal of fossil fuel-based plastics."
"While I appreciate the governor's acknowledgement of SB 665's intent, I disagree that this effort is duplicative and fear we have not yet learned from past mistakes," Allen said. "My hope is that we can continue the conversation."
SB 665 would have had CalEPA convene a task force by 2025 from the State Water Resources Control Board, CalRecycle, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and other agencies, to then develop a framework and potential scientific testing standards by 2026.
The bill said the task force would have looked at "trade-offs between sustainability objectives and risks" in greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use, natural resources depletion, soil health, pollution, impacts on the environment and public health, including for disadvantaged communities, as well as concerns over microplastics.
It said it would compare fossil-based plastic, paper and natural materials including bamboo and sugar cane.
The legislation also said that as California moves away from fossil fuels and toward more compostable or bio-based materials, the working group would study both the potential negative environmental impacts of industrial farming to grow those feedstocks and potential positives, like could they be more benign when they break down in the environment.
The California state review would seemingly build on work like a 2022 McKinsey study that found that plastic options had lower greenhouse gas impacts than alternatives in 13 of 14 products and a 2021 United Nations report that found that reusable products are generally more sustainable than single use.
One source following the legislation said on background that state agencies saw the bill as an unfunded mandate in a difficult budget year and said the task force lacked clear regulatory powers.
Some plastics industry groups had criticized earlier versions of the bill and urged lawmakers to instead let SB 54 play out. They were not listed as formally opposing the final legislation that passed.