As President Joe Biden's administration floats its plan to speed up the development of bioplastics, lawmakers in California are jumping in, saying they want to create state incentives to use more plant-based plastics in beverage bottles.
The state Assembly is considering a bill that would provide modest incentives to companies using plant-based plastics, as well as set a non-binding goal that plastic beverage bottles need to be made with 15 percent bio-based materials by 2030.
It's that voluntary 15 percent goal that's drawing concerns from some lawmakers and beverage companies that fear it could become a mandate, following a 2020 law that California passed requiring recycled plastic in bottles.
"A lot of these things start out as goals but it does appear there is a desire to move that beyond just a goal in the future," said Assembly Member Josh Hoover, R-Folsom, in an April 10 committee hearing. "That is certainly a red flag for me."
However, supporters of the bioplastic bill, including sponsor Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, said the legislation only calls for the biomaterial content as a goal, not a requirement.
Irwin was one of the lead authors of the 2020 recycled-content mandate, known as Assembly Bill 793, and spent several years pushing it in the Assembly before it finally passed.
That law, which is among the strictest in the world, requires 50 percent recycled plastic use by 2030, ramping up from 15 percent now.
She framed the bioplastic measure as the next step.
"While those changes secured by AB-793 are a momentous step in the right direction, we must continue to reduce the carbon emissions that fossil fuel-based plastics create," Irwin said. "As we move toward a fully circular economy, many manufacturing processes still need virgin materials. That is what the bill focuses on."
Besides the 15 percent goal, the legislation also would give bottle makers 10 percent discounts on processing fees they pay under the state's bottle bill program, if they use plastic made from agricultural waste.
The incentives would not apply to bioplastics made from food crops.
Supporters of the bill, which passed out of its first committee on an 8-3 vote, said it would be an important step toward setting up standards for bioplastics.
They want the state to encourage materials like bio-based PET that can be a drop-in resin replacement and function seamlessly in the state's recycling programs, and say they want to discourage alternatives like polylactic acid plastic containers, which they see as problematic for recycling.