California voters may be casting ballots on a far-reaching plastics referendum in the 2020 elections, one that could put a 1-cent fee on plastic and some paper packaging, as well as banning restaurants from using expanded polystyrene containers.
San Francisco-based waste and recycling company Recology Inc. and allies in the environmental community filed a formal notice of their referendum plan Nov. 4. Recology has committed $1 million to gather signatures and place it on the November 2020 ballot.
"This initiative aims to hold the plastics industry accountable for the products they create, and support projects that create jobs and increase the use of recycled materials," Recology CEO Mike Sangiacomo said in a statement. "We must support investments in environmental restoration and domestic recycling infrastructure needed to close the loop."
The 1-cent fee would generate in the range of $1 billion a year to reduce plastics and litter in the environment, fund recycling and recycled-content programs and clean up past damage from plastics, said Eric Potashner, Recology's senior director of strategic affairs.
One of the aims is to help build domestic recycling markets, so the state is not dependent on export markets that can shut down suddenly, as China did with its National Sword program, he said.
"The issue we're having with plastics is the environmental damage it's doing and the lack of clear markets," Potashner said. "It's more of a clear and present risk to the state and the environment."
The referendum, the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act of 2020, would:
• Authorize a fee of up to a penny "per plastic product or component of packaging, including plastic-coated paper," starting in 2022, with the amount set based on factors like recycling rates, recycled content and carbon intensity of a package. The California Plastic Pollution Reduction Fee would be paid by manufacturers and not appear on product receipts to consumers.
• Ban restaurants and food vendors from distributing expanded PS containers.
• Require all packaging, not just plastics, and priority single-use products, which it defines as food service ware, to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030.
• Where feasible, have companies cut back on using virgin, fossil fuel-based plastics for single-use products.
• Establish retailer takeback and deposit systems, maximize recycled content in packaging and reduce unnecessary and single-use plastic packaging.
Many of the implementation details would be worked out by state agency CalRecycle.