A Texas environmental group and a coalition of plastics firms and others are pushing unusual legislation that would put a 1-cent fee on shopping bags, PET bottles and retail drink cups to create a state fund to clean up packaging litter.
The complicated plan from Texans for Clean Water is endorsed by plastics recycling companies and the PET industry trade group National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), as well as environmental groups like the Container Recycling Institute and a local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
The head of TCW said the bill, which has deposit-style rebates on some packaging, has attracted bipartisan interest in the conservative Texas state legislature. TCW calls it a "free market, no tax" approach.
"We have Republican authors in both chambers, that's never happened before in this sort of effort that our group has been working on," TCW President Maia Corbitt said. "We're really happy about the momentum."
Still, Corbitt said it's too soon to predict if the bill will move forward. It has a few weeks left to move out of committee in the Texas Legislature, which only meets every two years.
On the positive side, Corbitt said previous opposition from some larger grocery chains in the state has softened to being neutral. She said the legislation at this point does not seem to have public opposition, although that could surface if it gets a hearing.
NAPCOR, which represents the PET bottling sector, said it supports the bill, seeing the fee on PET bottles and rebates as a way to raise recycling rates.
It said its position is an outgrowth of a policy change it made last year to endorse bottle deposit programs.
"We can't just keep talking about this, we're supporting bottle deposit legislation," said NAPCOR Executive Director Darrell Collier.
He said the structure of the TCW legislation, called Senate Bill 1276, is unique in recycling policy: "I've never seen anything like it."
The plan would put a penny fee on the most commonly littered items in the state — bags, cups and PET bottles — and then rebate that money back when consumers or local recycling programs collect and return them.
But it's an unusual rebate. Rather than return money for each bottle or cup, it pays 25 cents a pound for materials aggregated and returned, as well as handling fees.
TCW estimates that consumers or recycling programs would need to collect about 18-20 bottles for 1 pound of material to get the 25 cents.
That's much less than a traditional bottle bill, which typically pays 5-10 cents per container.
Supporters of the bill acknowledge the smaller fee likely means a smaller increase in recycling rates compared with a regular bottle bill, but they still see benefits.
Corbitt said the bill would create a flexible program that could increase fees if needed or add more materials into the system, as recycling markets change. It includes an industry consortium to help run it.