Efforts to reduce plastic waste gain ground in Sacramento and DC – Orange County Register
If the mountain of proposed laws is any indication, lawmakers are increasingly ready to crack down on the plastic waste that litter the roads, dumps on beaches and in the oceans, is digested by fish and ends up in our world. own belly.
In Sacramento, at least a dozen bills are tackling plastic pollution from a variety of angles, including reducing the amount of single-use plastic and filling returnable beverage bottles. And in Washington, D., C., A broad federal proposal co-authored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would put much of the responsibility for reducing and recycling plastic to companies that make and use plastic. single-use plastics.
But there are obstacles, especially opposition from business interests and a lack of consensus among lawmakers.
“Over the past few years we’ve made a breakthrough in terms of public awareness, but I don’t think we have the political will yet,” said Daniel Coffee of UCLA, a public policy researcher whose specialties include plastic pollution.
Coffee compared the magnitude of the Lowenthal Bill – the “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act” – to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, but said it went beyond what Congress was. likely to approve this year. Some of the state proposals, which are more progressive, are seen as more likely to become laws.
“It’s no longer about whether California will do something, but when and how it will happen,” said Senator Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, a Statehouse leader on the issue who resubmitted a proposal. key to reducing plastic pollution after failing to have it approved each of the past two years.
While the solutions are a source of litigation, there is little doubt about the extent of the problem.
Some 15 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year and their amount is expected to triple by 2040, according to the United Nations. The United States is the world leader in plastic waste, producing 42 million metric tons in 2016, five times more than it produced six years earlier, according to the newspaper. Scientists progress.
Increasingly, this waste ends up in landfills – and in the ocean – as overseas markets for recyclables have dried up. Less than 15% of California single-use plastics (and just 8% nationwide) are now recycled, as environmentalists call for stricter laws and polls show general public concern.
California has taken several important but modest steps to tackle waste. In 2016, voters ratified the ban on single-use plastic take-out bags, and two years later, the legislature approved restrictions on single-use plastic straws. Last year, California became the first state to pass a law requiring plastic bottles to be made with at least 15% recycled content, a standard that will rise to 50% by 2030.
Additionally, a handful of coastal towns – including Long Beach and Santa Monica – have approved restrictions on single-use plastic utensils and containers.
But environmentalists say these measures only scratch the surface of the problem.
“Californians, policymakers and businesses all know we can and must do better,” said Ashley Blacow of environmental group Oceana. “We know this is possible because we are seeing other countries taking meaningful action, and alternative business practices and products are available here with us.”
The federal bill, introduced by Lowenthal and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, would phase out many of the most littered single-use plastics, including take-out bags, foam food and beverage containers, agitators plastic and plastic utensils. And there should be a nationwide minimum recycled content for plastic beverage containers.
Among many other provisions, it would also require producers of packaging, containers and catering products to “design, manage and finance programs for the collection and treatment of product waste”, according to one invoice summary.
“The European Union has been ahead of us in solving the problem, but that would go beyond anything it has done,” Coffee said.
Days after the bill was introduced on March 25, the Plastics Industry Association launched a scathing attack on the proposal.
“This bill is a direct threat to nearly a million men and women working in the domestic plastics industry,” business group chairman Tony Radoszewski said in a press release. “In addition, this misguided legislation could have the unintended consequence of leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. “
Similar to President Biden’s response to criticism of his green energy initiatives, Lowenthal responded that the bill would simply move jobs and dollars to more environmentally friendly industries.
“Despite the plastics industry’s claims, our bill will create jobs through massive investments in infrastructure, induce more sustainable products to enter the market and create a genuine national market for recycled materials,” he said. said Lowenthal.
Coffee has acknowledged that single-use substitutes for plastics create greenhouse gases, just like any manufactured product. He said the ideal solution lies in reusable substitutes, such as the already widely used reusable grocery bags. Some consumers also carry their own cooking utensils and Berkeley recently hosted a pilot program in restaurants and cafes that used reusable cup loans.
But a significant part of the problem is unnecessary packaging that could simply be disposed of, according to Claudia Deeg of the CALPIRG advocacy group.
“We don’t need to wrap every online order in layers of plastic packaging,” she said.
Environmentalists also complain about the plastics industry’s disproportionate lobbying muscle, a factor also noted by Coffee.
“The plastics industry – and the fossil fuel industry, of which it is a part – does not hesitate to invest its money to influence decision makers,” he said.
Lowenthal, meanwhile, acknowledged that if his proposal was not approved in its entirety, some parties might make it law; “if not all in the same bill, at least by other legislative actions.”
While the future of federal law is murky, plastic reduction advocates want to keep the momentum going in California.
Perhaps the biggest prize currently on the registry is Allen’s SB 54, versions of which have been vetted in both the Senate and the Assembly over the past two years, but have never made it out of the bureaucratic glove of the Legislature to get to the governor’s office.
The bill would reduce waste by reducing the use of plastics and boosting recycling and compostables. The current version, removed from last year’s proposal, would prohibit manufacturers of single-use plastic packaging and single-use catering products from selling, distributing or importing these products unless they are recyclable or compostable.
As the Lowenthal Bill and the flurry of other proposed state laws signal growing concern about the matter, Coffee points to SB 54 as a potential watermark.
“If SB 54 passes, that could be that time,” Coffee said. “Then other states could see what’s possible and follow suit, and that could help something nationwide as well. California is often the leader in this type of legislation.
Allen was able to appease the American Beverage Association enough last year that the trade group did not oppose his bill – although the trade group did not support it either. The State Chamber of Commerce opposed this version, although most of the sources of their objections are not currently in the version proposed this year. These provisions removed provisions that included a fine of up to $ 50,000 per day for violators and gave the state recycling authority broad authority to design a program that would eventually reduce single-use waste by 75%.
“We are working with the industry to address their concerns even as we keep our eyes on the price,” Allen said on Wednesday, March 31. “It’s not about doing away with products and packaging. It’s about pushing producers to use more sustainable materials and reduce unnecessary and costly waste.
Meanwhile, CALPIRG’s Deeg stressed the importance of continued progress at the national and local levels to accelerate change at the national level.
“The more successful policies we can cite, the better our chances of a complete overhaul,” she said.
Balance of invoices
SB 54, which would require single-use plastics to be recyclable or compostable, has drawn the most attention of plastic waste bills before the California legislature this year. But there are at least 11 other plastics proposals before state lawmakers. Among them:
- AB 1371 phase out the use of single-use plastic packaging used for shipping in-state online shopping, including shipping envelopes, bubble wrap, air cushions, peanuts packaging, foam and other shipping packaging containing plastic.
- AB 1276 would take the requirement that customers can get single-use plastic straws in sit-down restaurants only on request and expand it to include other single-use food accessories.
- AB 622 would require washing machines sold in California to include a microfiber filter from 2024.
- AB 962 establish a refill and reuse program for returnable beverage bottles.
- AB 478 would require minimum recycled content for single-use plastic blister boxes that are used to package fresh berries and other food products.
- SB 343 and AB 1201 repress the use of the words “recyclable” and “compostable”, as well as the recyclable symbol, on products and packaging that do not meet these definitions.