The major effort by environmental advocates and California legislators aimed at dramatically reducing single-use plastic pollution ended anticlimactically this month when the legislative session closed without lawmakers voting on the measure. Companion bills AB 1080 and SB 54, intended to reduce the amount of waste in landfills and oceans, placed the onus on manufacturers to ensure the recyclability of plastic products like utensils, takeout boxes and beverage lids, which consumers typically use once before tossing. The bills can be taken up again next year.
Lawmakers didn’t speak from the floor to explain the decision to punt on the measure, but environmental advocates blamed a number of late changes that muddied the waters. Among the most significant environmental proposals of the session, the bills had the support of a coalition of environmental groups, cities and celebrities like surfing legend Kelly Slater and actor Jeff Bridges.
Lawmakers promised to push the proposal at the beginning of next year’s session. “We operate on a two-year session and plan to continue working to get AB 1080/SB 54 to the governor’s desk once the Legislature reconvenes in January,” said Samantha Gallegos, a spokeswoman for Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, one of the measure’s authors.
But supporters are raising the prospect of a more aggressive strategy that would put a single-use plastic ban initiative on the ballot in November 2020, a presidential election year. The recycling company Recology has vowed to put $1 million behind such an effort. “If that’s the only way to get something done, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Eric Potashner, the company’s director of strategic affairs.
Geoff Shester, campaign director for the environmental nonprofit Oceana, said the bill’s authors “bent over backward” to address concerns from business groups, but he expects that the next iteration will be far more stringent. “The opponents of the legislation will regret rejecting the deal that was offered this year,” he said. He did not think the lack of a vote meant the Legislature had decided to abandon addressing what he calls a plastic pollution crisis. “Lawmakers want to get it right,” Shester said.