Washington — A group of legislators in seven Northeastern states announced Jan. 27 they're forming a network to pursue regional solutions around plastics waste, saying that the issue often crosses state lines.
The informal coalition was announced by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a Washington-based organization made up of more than 1,000 state lawmakers, which said the new initiative would tackle both plastics and zero waste concerns.
NCEL said the Northeast "led the way" on single-use plastics legislation in 2019.
"The impacts of plastic pollution don't stop at state borders, so these legislators know the importance of working across state lines to impact meaningful change," NCEL Executive Director Jeff Mauk said. "This effort shows states moving forward as a region."
The group does not have a formal shared platform but held a launch meeting in November and came out of that agreeing to pursue shared action, NCEL said.
Several states in the region passed plastic bag, polystyrene foam and straw bans individually or in some combination last year, and more laws are being debated this year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, made an EPS food container ban part of his budget proposal this year, after that state passed a plastic bag ban last year.
NCEL said 220 plastics related bills were introduced last year, and 230 have been introduced thus far in 2020.
"Each of these states made progress on the issue during the 2019 session and felt like coming together as a region was a strong signal of their continuing work," Mauk said.
Some businesses also say they see value in a regional approach at times.
Nestle Waters North America, for example, issued a statement on Jan. 17 endorsing legislation in Maine that would require 25 percent post-consumer content in plastic beverage bottles by 2025.
"Our hope is that the Maine bill can be a regional model for a recycled content standard in the Northeast," Nestle said in a statement.
A Maine lawmaker who is part of the NCEL coalition said he wants his state to build on legislation it passed last year.
"As a state, we are a national leader in tackling single-use plastics. Last year we passed a ban on polystyrene and plastic bags," said Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler. "This year, we are expanding our efforts to finding ways to increase producer responsibility in the full lifecycle of plastics. I'm proud to join with my Northeast colleagues in tackling this problem."
"The impacts of plastic pollution are real for Maine citizens and is a topic that my constituents frequently reach out about," he said.
Mauk said lawmakers in the states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — want to use the network to remain in contact and coordinate.
"The group doesn't have a name or leader but is rather an informal coalition of bill authors from these states to help them better learn from one another," he said.
NCEL said in its news release that the lawmakers see states acting rather than waiting for the federal government, and said they're concerned about the impact of increasing plastics production on climate change and emissions, as well as marine ecosystems and public health.
Mauk said the group is looking broadly at zero waste issues but starting with plastics.
"The current effort is primarily focused around single-use plastics. However, states understand that our waste management system and recycling system as a whole needs to be reevaluated and strengthened," he said. "Addressing single-use plastics is just one of the ways these legislators hope to move toward a circular economy."
While lawmakers are pursuing joint solutions, some of the bans remain controversial within states.
A Melville, N.Y., plastic bag maker, Poly-Pak Industries Inc., told a Jan. 27 state regulatory hearing on New York's plastic bag ban that the ban as structured could have a detrimental impact to its business.
Poly-Pak President Peter Levy was one of more than 30 people testifying at the hearing, and he urged the state to adopt rules allowing the thicker plastic bags that his company makes for specialty retailers like shoe stores. New York state's ban kicks off March 1.