When rePlanet shut its 284 collection centers in California, citing higher operating costs and dwindling returns from post-consumer recyclables, it was a vivid example of challenges threatening the ability of Californians to recycle and helps to explain the progress a trio of bills is making through the legislature. All aim to change the economics of recycling by legislating a tough financial incentive for manufacturers.
Two of the bills, authored by Democrats Lorena Gonzalez in the Assembly and Ben Allen in the Senate, are identical and would require manufacturers to reduce waste from packaging and certain plastic products. The other, by Assemblyman Phil Ting, calls on manufacturers to increase the minimum recycled content in plastic beverage bottles over the next decade.
All of the bills have cleared their houses of origin and their authors say they are cautiously optimistic they will pass in the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate. They still face pushback, however, on their way to the governor’s desk, notably from a new and secretive coalition called Californians for Recycling and the Environment that is encouraging the public to tell legislators to vote no on Sen. Allen’s bill, SB 54.
The coalition represents the packaging industry and officially formed “maybe a few weeks ago,” according to spokesman Micah Grant. Despite its effort to kill at least one of the bills, Grant insisted in an email to CalMatters that the group “doesn’t ‘oppose’ SB 54.”
As the votes near on each of the three bills, industry groups listed as opposition to the twin bills in the Assembly and Senate—including the American Chemistry Council, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, and the powerful American Beverage Association—say they’re not trying to kill the legislation. They just want to see changes.
The bills come as California’s recycling industry is trying to adjust to recent upheaval in the international recycling markets. Historically, California has exported about a third of its recycling, including about two-thirds of recycling in the blue bins—with a big chunk going to China, according to estimates from CalRecycle, California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.