Monumental Week for Plastics, Beverages, Medical Products Bills

Monumental Week for Plastics, Beverages, Medical Products Bills

Several California bills calling for waste management and reduction could make their way to the governor’s desk this week.

This last week of August will mean the likely passage or death of several California bills calling for plastics, beverage and pharmaceutical industries to prevent, reduce or manage waste they generate. The bills, which would need to move to the governor’s desk by August 31, are SB 1335, SB 168 and SB 212.

SB 1335 would mandate that foodservice providers use only recyclable and compostable food packaging at state beaches, parks and fairgrounds, as well as at state buildings. Authored by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), this mandate would take effect January 1, 2021, if passed.  

The main driver behind SB 1335 was problems around plastics pollution clogging landfills and waterways, which has been a hot topic for years, but even more so since a University of California, Davis study found about 25 percent of fish sold in markets in California and Indonesia had plastic in their guts.

The legislation is intended to address plastics in waterways, and marine life, and to help California meet its goal of diverting 75 percent of waste from landfills by 2020.

“Through SB 1335, the state can lead by example and show that we don’t have to harm our environment every time we get food in a container,” says Allen. “Sustainable food packaging is available and affordable. We just need to make the conscious choice to switch to a better alternative.”

Nick Lapis, director of Advocacy for Californians Against Waste, an environmental advocacy organization that sponsored SB 1335, further comments: “SB 1335 puts the onus on all food packaging manufacturers to make sure that their products are truly recyclable … don’t end up as litter in our rivers and oceans; aren’t made of toxic ingredients; and don’t pose a threat to wildlife. Senator Allen and his staff have thread the needle on a policy that is incredibly ambitious, while being material neutral and fair. It will be a great blueprint for broader policy on takeout food and product packaging.”

SB 168 would require that plastic beverage containers in California’s bottle bill program have a minimum recycled content standard of 20 percent by 2020. Authored by Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), it also authorizes CalRecycle to establish even higher minimum content standards beginning in 2021. 

In a state that purchases more than 24 billion beverage containers every year, incorporating recycled material into manufacturing represents a huge opportunity to protect the vulnerable recycling market in California. But the bill will have other benefits, says Wieckowski.

“By directing CalRecycle to establish minimum content standards, SB 168 will help California reduce energy consumption and reduce air pollution, while creating jobs and economic opportunities through the expansion of recycling markets and infrastructure in California,” he explains.

Tracie Bills of the California Resource Recovery Association further adds: “With National Sword rocking the bedrock of our state’s recycling infrastructure, it’s more important than ever to close the loop and focus on developing domestic markets for our commodities. SB 168 does that with a policy that has been proven [elsewhere] to create strong recycling markets.”

SB 212 would require drug and sharps manufacturers to create and fund statewide programs to dispose of used and or unwanted products. Nine California jurisdictions already have their own ordinances, but manufacturers have, until recently, fought establishment of a statewide program.

“Takeback programs for medical sharps aren’t readily available for all of our residents,” says Assembly Member Phil Ting, who authored the sharps portion of the bill. “From a public health and environmental standpoint, that’s problematic. California needs a solution like SB 212 right now, and committee approval of this bill gives us momentum in the remaining days of session.”

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson focused on the drug takeback portion of SB 212. Recognizing there were few to no options for disposal of drugs, too, she has worked closely with the pharmaceutical industry for feedback to develop a standardized, statewide program.

“I am open to [manufacturers] figuring out the best way to take back their products … I’m convinced we will get a bill passed and signed into law this year,” she says.

In the past two years, about a dozen California statutes passed into law to address disposal or reduction of wasted consumer products.

Among them are:

  • A bill supporting market development payments to entities that process and/or manufacture products from used plastic containers.
  • A bill with rules around end uses of wasted cathode ray tube panel glass.
  • A bill that establishes requirements related to lead-acid batteries.
  • A bill that coordinates enforcement and compliance around unlicensed, unregulated automobile dismantling.
  • A bill that requires manufacturers of plastic beverage containers to report the amount of virgin plastic and postconsumer recycled plastic used for plastic California Redemption Value (CRV)-eligible beverages sold in the state.
  • A bill that prohibits sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads.
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