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California lawmakers refuse to vote on proposals for recycling and phase out single-use plastics

California legislators adjourned early Saturday without acting on bills that would have made their state the first to phase out partially single-use containers, with supporters unable to overcome lobbying from industry opponents.

Two bills, Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080, aimed to eliminate 75 percent of single-use containers by 2030, reduce the glut of statewide non-marketable plastics and lay the groundwork for a revamped recycling industry in California.
Before the bills die, advocates hoped that California could create a waste reduction template, including plastic bottles and containers that end up in waterways and oceans.

“We want to show that we can build a model that we can truly scale around the rest of the world,” said Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), author of SB 54. “We also need to show the rest of the world that they can and ought to be doing something about this.”

The bills came in reaction to China’s move to become more careful with the scrap it takes from the United States, which has generated a massive surplus of imported plastics and mixed material, weakening the demand for other products. With little income coming in, many local and state governments simply shut down their recycling programs, opting to dump recyclable items into landfills beforehand.
The bills zeroed in on plastics, an sector that has sidestepped requirements for sustainability that many manufacturers, such as glass and cardboard, have to follow.

Compared to the legislation, the US discards 30 million tons of plastic per year alone, and global plastics production has hit an annual figure of 335 million tons — a sum predicted to more than triple by 2050.
Advocates hoped the law would support a recycling industry that only recycled a fraction of the collected materials at its peak.

“We’re only going to see more and more reports of plastic and microplastics invading the environment,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. “We want to make sure that California is a leader and creating a path the rest of the country can follow.”

The author of AB 1080, Allen, who introduced SB 54, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), sought to slow down the production of virgin plastics and other non-recyclable goods. Some industry groups have opposed the production emphasis, arguing for exemptions and winning down requirements.
Legislators and bill proponents said they had tried to work with all sides while developing waste reduction goals.

 “We have shown ourselves to be good-faith negotiators,” said Sen. Allen.

Opposition letters from Grocery Manufacturers Assn., waste treatment companies such as Athens Services and the California Refuse Recycling Commission, and representatives of the agricultural and glass processing sectors released early in the week.
Some were concerned about the authority granted to CalRecycle, the entity charged with monitoring compliance, and a lack of specifics on how to administer the bill.

“We remain opposed because we think there are some fundamental flaws in the bill which would prevent it from being implemented” said Shannon Crawford, the Plastics Industry Assn ‘s executive director of public relations.

In the final days, the authors of the bill were able to negotiate changes that gained the support of the California Grocers Assn. and Dow Chemical, and shifted the stance of big players like the American Chemistry Council, Proctor & Gamble and Walmart, who dropped their opposition.
Members became disappointed that they would not be willing to win the votes when the legislative session began.

“I have a personal stake in it because I’m a dad and I have a family that is going to have to live on this planet” said Mark Murray, Californians Against Waste’s executive director, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that helped draft the bills.

“It’s sad our natural environment is inundated with plastic particles that make our way into our water and our food. That’s an embarrassment for our generation.”

The environmentalists and bill advocates posted their encouragement in the days leading up to the debate, brandishing a hashtag #CAMustLead. Celebrities like Alicia Silverstone and Jeff Bridges have been encouraging residents in California to contact their representatives.

“Californians are frustrated and concerned about the environmental, public health and financial consequences of single-use plastic waste,” said Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist at Oceana. “Inaction is not an option. We will simply have to double down our efforts in getting strong legislation passed next year.”

Lawmakers approved two recycling measures, AB 54 and AB 792, sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), aimed at promoting sluggish recycling industries and the the allowable quantity of virgin plastics in beverage containers to 50 percent by 2030.
AB 54 would have $5 million to fund a CalRecycle-supervised prototype mobile recycling initiative. The bill will make five grants available in areas heavily affected by the closure of RePlanet, the state’s largest recycling centre. One grant is set aside for a rural area.
The bill will also stop the fines levied on grocers required for recycling beverage containers in areas where there are no nearby recycling centers until March 2020.

“We’ve been trying to solve California’s recycling problem for years,” said Ting. “AB 54 provides short-term relief while we work over the fall toward a more comprehensive fix that can start moving through the legislative process when we reconvene in January.”

Initially, AB 792 included a clause for plastic bottles to be manufactured by 2035 from 100 percent recycled material. It was amended to implement phased-in minimum requirements, beginning with a requirement of 10 percent in 2021 and capping at 50 percent by 2030.

The bill will give the authority to adjust minimum requirements to CalRecycle if market conditions prevent companies from reaching them, a compromise designed to ease the passage of the bill.
Both bills now go to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, with signing or vetoing them until Oct. 13.

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