Shannon Crawford, director of state government affairs at the Plastics Industry Association, told an industry conference Nov. 5 that coastal states are increasingly trading ideas on plastics legislation.
"We're anticipating seeing a very similar labeling bill to what we saw in California being introduced [in New York]," Crawford told the Plastics Packaging Summit, which was organized by her association Nov. 3-5.
As well, she said Maine's new EPR law, which industry groups oppose, has created waves in nearby states.
"We kind of have felt the repercussions in the other states in the Northeast because of this," she said, pointing to EPR legislation expected in New York, Massachusetts and Maryland. "If they're looking to Maine as their source of inspiration, we would have a big issue with that."
She said states have been putting more attention on three areas of plastics policy: EPR, recycled content and marketing of claims for recyclability.
But the Republican gains in state government elections in New Jersey and Virginia Nov. 2 also may soften some agendas, Crawford said.
New Jersey, for example, saw Republicans pick up legislative seats, creating uncertainty about prospects for a recycled-content mandate bill for trash bags and implementation of upcoming statewide bans on plastic retail bags and expanded polystyrene packaging, she said.
"It will be very interesting to see … how they kind of respond to Democrats losing some of the power they have in those legislative chambers," Crawford said.
As well, in Virginia, which will switch parties in the governor's mansion after Republican Glenn Youngkin won, it's likely to mean the end of a state executive order banning single-use plastics in state agencies, Crawford said.
On the West Coast, however, an active 2021 is expected continue in 2022, with Oregon and Washington planning to build on laws passed this year.
Washington passed recycled-content standards for household products, beverage containers and trash bags, and it banned EPS packaging. To follow that up, state officials now have an advisory committee studying whether to expand content mandates to PET thermoforms, polypropylene packaging and other materials, she said.
As well, EPR legislation covering both flexible and rigid plastics is expected to be introduced again in 2022 in Olympia, after it was proposed this year but stalled, Crawford said.
"We're expecting a lot of work in Washington state," she said.
Crawford said more legislatures are looking at requiring recycled content in plastic products.
"We saw a lot of recycled-content mandates throughout the states, all along the West Coast and then Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey," she said, arguing that her group supports using recycled content but takes issue with how some state legislatures are going about it.
"Although [the association] supports recycled content, these were typically crafted with unachievable target levels, essentially setting up a kind of punitive measure that if resins could not meet these standards, they would either be fined or be prohibited from being sold into the state," Crawford said.
In California, focus is likely to be on a statewide referendum on the November 2022 ballot that will ask voters to adopt a tax of up to one penny on single-use plastics to fund recycling and environmental initiatives.
But Crawford also said the association is working on a narrower priority. It's talking with the sponsor of the new marketing law in California to correct what industry sees as onerous requirements for store drop-off for recycling bags or other flexible materials.
Not on the coast, but in the West, Colorado is expected to again debate plastics legislation next year, after banning bags and EPS foam and repealing a law that prevented cities from adopting their own bans.
Crawford said the state will likely consider EPR, with language mirroring a New York state proposal she said includes a "prohibition on advanced recycling."
On EPR legislation broadly, she said the plastics association has supported some EPR bills. In Maine, it endorsed one version of producer responsibility, but lawmakers there passed a different plan.
Part of the EPR debates have boiled down to how much control governments or industry groups should have as states start to design producer responsibility systems. Crawford said the association believes the versions that passed in Oregon and Maine are more stick than carrot.
"While these bills are kind of cast as being EPR, they're essentially creating new or additional powers for state agencies to oversee recycling operations," she said. "They're definitely very punitive for industry and not a method we would recommend for improving the overall recycling landscape."