Hoping to halt the growing number of California cities banning plastic carryout bags and prevent a 25 cent statewide fee that would effectively outlaw their product, two plastics industry groups have proposed producer-responsibility legislation before the California legislature.
It is the first time the industry has advocated an approach beyond recycling for plastic bags and could lead to calls for producer responsibility on other products and in other states.
The proposals from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the California Film Extruders and Converters Association (CFECA) both focus on an upfront fee on producers and distributors of plastic and paper carryout bags, the use of recycled content in plastic bags, and provisions that would prevent local governments from enacting or enforcing bans.
"We are being more aggressive on the offensive side and not just playing defense," said Tim Shestek, director of state, government and grass-roots affairs in California for ACC, which is based in Arlington, Virginia.
"We recognize that reducing litter and increasing recycling are environmental issues that industry is responsible for," Shestek said. "Our bill represents out-of-the-box thinking and demonstrates our willingness to be part of making recycling a success. If the industry is going to talk about supporting recycling, we have to become a significant player and this is a reflection of that. We are willing to help fund ongoing recycling and market development activities."
But Stephanie Barger, executive director of Earth Resource Foundation in Costa Mesa, California, questions the extent of the industry's planned commitment to producer responsibility.
"What we really need are actual recycling plants in America," she said. "So my question would be, are they going to build them, are they going to help underwrite the cost of recycling, and help make sure that the plastic can be made back into another single-use product? More recycling doesn't stop all of the destruction that occurs to get the materials that are initially needed to make single-use products."
The bills are just two of many under consideration in the California legislation this year that could impact the plastics industry. The others California bills would:
Require large California supermarkets to charge customers 25 cents on all single-use carryout bags, including "green" bags.
Ban polystyrene packaging.
Require single-use bottles to have caps that are affixed to the container.
Ban PVC packaging
Expand the bottle deposit program to include wine and alcoholic beverages.
Ban bisphenol A from children's products.
Require truth-in-advertising for compostable bags.
Create an extended product-responsibility program for packaging that would be administered by the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Pete Grande, president and chief executive officer of Command Packaging in Vernon, California, and a member of CFECA, said he would be very surprised if extended producer responsibility does not pass. But environmentalists are not so sure.