Washington — For the plastics industry, the biggest impact of the Nov. 8 midterm elections is probably in the states, where unexpected and history-defying gains by Democrats could strengthen calls for new plastics environmental laws.
It's a sharp contrast from Washington, where a closely divided Congress after the midterms makes big change harder.
But the states are on a different and potentially more active path, with Democrats expanding their control, something that rarely happens in midterms for the party in the White House.
"The map [in the states] has expanded for potentially significant plastics policy," said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
He pointed to Democrats achieving the "trifecta" of controlling both legislative chambers and the governor's office in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota. In Michigan, it's the first time Democrats have been in that position in 40 years.
While abortion, inflation and democracy may have motivated voters, observers say the Democratic gains could mean more extended producer responsibility laws for packaging.
In the last 18 months, four states — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — passed the first U.S. EPR laws for packaging, and many other states have flirted with it.
Scott Cassel, CEO of the Product Stewardship Institute, which advocates for EPR laws, said the election will mean more packaging EPR in states, including for plastics.
"Based upon the results from the elections … I would say it looks very good," he said, noting Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota, in particular, have been active on EPR.
EPR supporters in Maryland have a stronger hand with Democrat Wes Moore winning the election as governor, replacing outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, he said.
The Maryland Legislature, which was already controlled by Democrats, had considered an EPR bill this year and has worked to build industry support, he said.
"I think there's a very good possibility that Maryland will see their law pass," Cassel said. "A number of producer organizations — the Flexible Packaging Association, Ameripen and the Consumer Brands Association — all supported Maryland's bill."
EPR laws in general require industry to operate or provide much more financial support for consumer packaging recycling. While common in some European countries and Canadian provinces, such laws were nonexistent in the United States for consumer product packaging until Maine and Oregon passed the first U.S. versions last year.
"EPR the past two years has been a tidal wave," he said.