After efforts to craft compromise legislation came under fire this week from groups supporting the ballot measure, it appears increasingly likely that Californians will get a chance to vote on a single-use plastics ban in November.
Legislators, led by state Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), filed a bill on Thursday in the hopes of preempting the initiative and avoiding a costly initiative battle and potentially years of litigation.
Some environmental groups support the bill, but its proponents argue that it gives too much to the plastics industry, which has successfully fought numerous previous attempts to restrict single-use containers, including those made of polystyrene.
The lightweight foamy plastic found in disposable coffee cups and some food containers, polystyrene, is a point of contention in the debate.
Unlike the ballot measure, Allen’s bill does not prohibit the use of polystyrene. Instead, by 2025, it calls for a polystyrene recycling rate of 20%.
According to the EPA, just 3.6% of polystyrene in packaging is recycled.
“We need to get the most problematic material out of the system,” said Linda Escalante, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s legislative director for Southern California.
Michael Sangiacomo, former president of the Bay Area waste management firm Recology, and Caryl Hart, vice chair of the California Coastal Commission, are among the three ballot initiative petitioners.
“I can’t see giving up the initiative for this,” she explained. “We don’t want to be tethered to a broken system for years to come.”
The initiative — known as the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act — would require all single-use plastic packaging and food ware used in California to be recyclable, reusable, refillable or compostable by 2030, and single-use plastic production to be reduced by 25% by 2030.
Along with banning polystyrene, it also requires the producers and distributors of plastic products to pay for the program — levying a less than 1-cent fee per item.
Critics say the initiative’s language is ambiguous and that it could be problematic because it lacks support from the plastics industry.
They believe that the legislative process and resulting legislation will be a more effective way to regulate plastic waste in the long run, allowing state agencies and plastic producers to follow clearer regulatory directives.
“This bill would put California in the lead in the fight against plastic pollution around the world,” Allen said. “It holds producers accountable for how their products are used in the end.”
The 73-page bill, among other things, mandates that producers reduce single-use plastic packaging and food ware by 25% by 2032 and pay $500 million in mitigation funds each year. It’s the result of weeks of negotiations between Allen, lobbyists for the plastics industry, environmental groups, and others.
Dart Containers, a Michigan-based plastics company that is the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups and containers, has yet to comment on the revised legislation.
Dart’s communications director, Margo Burrage, said the company prefers the legislative route because “a solution can be effective and comprehensive while taking into account ways to update the state’s ageing infrastructure to meet the recycling and composting demands of any mandates or requirements,” she said.
The Nature Conservancy, the Ocean Conservancy, Azul, and Oceana are among the leading environmental organisations that have expressed support for the bill’s latest revision.
Other environmental groups, however, argue that the legislation, as written, is insufficient and allows the plastics industry to self-regulate.