California lawmakers on Aug. 11 shelved a plan to force online retailers to reduce their single-use plastics packaging, killing what would have been first-in-the-nation legislation.
The plan died in a state Senate committee on a parliamentary maneuver, after passing the Assembly in May on a 41-26 vote and getting serious consideration from lawmakers.
Its chief Assembly sponsor, Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, said she had been in talks with all sides to make the bill more palatable and build support ahead of the end of the legislative session Aug. 30, but those efforts appear to have come up short.
In a statement criticizing the Senate for killing the bill, several environmental groups pointed to projections that plastic packaging in e-commerce will double in the U.S. in the next six years.
"Californians are unhappy with the amount of unnecessary plastic waste that is added to their online purchases and want action to eliminate it," said Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Pacific policy and communications manager with Oceana.
"We know e-commerce shippers are well-positioned to significantly reduce the impact they are having on our planet by offering plastic-free shipping options because we are seeing action in other countries," she said.
It's the second year the legislation, known as Assembly Bill-2026, has failed to advance in Sacramento.
Friedman introduced a stricter version last year that would have banned single-use plastic shipping envelopes and expanded polystyrene packaging materials starting in 2023, but it failed to get a vote.
In February, she reintroduced a strict version that would have banned plastic envelopes, cushioning materials and void fill in online retail shipments starting in 2024, as well as reinstating in-store recycling for plastic bags.
But that bill was changed in June in the state Senate, into a less demanding version that would have called for an unspecified level of cuts in plastic packaging use by online retailers selling into the state by 2030.
That version was killed by the Senate Appropriations Committee Aug. 11. Sources said the committee chair, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Glendale, appears to have put a hold on the bill, preventing it from moving forward.
Friedman, in comments on the floor of the Assembly May 26, had told colleagues that she and other supporters would be working with industry to include timelines they could accommodate.
"We have talked to industry this week and are committing right now to taking amendments in the Senate and continuing to work in the Senate to move this bill over from being what it is now, which is a phaseout of all plastics products in shipping and instead to an aggressive source reduction bill that will work on timelines that the industry can accommodate," she said.
"We are committed to working with industry to make sure that this is doable," Friedman said. "We don't want broken items either."
The legislation would have measured the reduction against the total weight and number of e-commerce plastic packages used in 2023.
Friedman pointed to the explosion of web shopping, saying that online buying in the U.S. rose 44 percent from 2019 to 2021. She called online retail shipping "the low-hanging fruit of plastic."
"Now with almost a third of the world's population buying online, the amount of plastic packaging generated is estimated to more than double by 2026," she said.
While environmental organizations such as Oceana supported the bill and its source reduction provisions, plastics groups like the American Chemistry Council argued it will damage both the industry and consumers.
ACC said that rather than pass Friedman's AB-2026 bill, the state should wait on the implementation of a large plastics producer responsibility bill that the state passed at the end of June, known as Senate Bill 54.
"The passage of SB-54 into law precludes the need for AB-2026. SB-54, among other things, will infuse millions in new funding from producers to improve the state's recycling infrastructure, set recycling rate requirements for plastic packaging and require the producer responsibility organization to meet a 25 percent 'source reduction' requirement," said Tim Shestek, senior director of western region state affairs at ACC.
"Additionally, SB-54 will support the creation of more robust end-use markets for recovered material, allowing for the use of an ever-increasing amount of recycled material in new packaging," he said.
"Passing a different law specific to e-commerce packaging will hinder effective implementation of SB-54, confuse e-commerce companies on what rules to follow and ultimately hurt consumers' ability to receive packages undamaged and in a timely manner," Shestek said.
In her comments on the Assembly floor, Friedman said she and other supporters had worked with different industry groups over the last year to convince them to drop their opposition and take a neutral position on the legislation. She said those groups include organizations representing agricultural businesses, as well as the California Grocers Association and medical device makers.