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California lawmakers fail to pass sweeping plastic pollution plan


Bills were closely watched amid growing global problem In a setback for environmental groups, California lawmakers early Saturday morning ended the 2019 legislative session without passing two bills that would have been the most ambitious effort in the nation to reduce the massive amounts of plastic pollution that are washing into oceans, rivers and lakes around the world.

The bills, which each cleared one house but not both chambers as required, would have required companies that sell products widely found in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants to reduce plastic pollution 75% by 2030. That could have come through recycling, composting or reduction in the amount of packaging.

In addition, the bills would have required that starting in 2030, all single-use packaging and food products — including plates, straws, forks, spoons, knives, cups and bowls that are offered for sale, sold, or imported into California — would have had to be recyclable or made of materials that decompose when composted.

“It’s very disappointing that with such a clear crisis facing our oceans, the environment and the recycling infrastructure,  that the governor and Legislature couldn’t get a solution past the interests of the plastics industry,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a non-profit advocacy group.

Lawmakers did send a third plastics recycling bill to the governor, AB 792, by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco.

If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, that measure will require plastic beverage containers sold in California to contain 10% recycled plastic by 2021, 25% recycled plastic by 2025, and 50% recycled plastic by 2030.

“This is the most aggressive recycled-content mandate not only in the United States, but in the world,” said Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks.

But the two other recycling bills, Assembly bill 1080, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Senate Bill 54, by state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, never came up for a vote before the Senate and Assembly adjourned for the year around 3 a.m.

The bills, which were among the most high-profile environmental measures in California’s state capitol in 2019, are eligible to be considered again next year.

“We weren’t able to get the votes necessary this late hour,” said Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, in a tweet at 3 a.m. Saturday. “But rest assured, we will be back in January.”

Exactly why the bills’ backers couldn’t secure the votes for a landmark environmental law in a Democratic-controlled Legislature with a history of passing major environmental laws was not clear early Saturday.

Several politically prominent groups, including the wine industry, opposed the bills, saying they would have given too much power to state bureaucrats at CalRecycle, the agency that would have been charged with writing specific rules to implement the law by 2024.

Other opposition in recent weeks came from Waste Management and several recycling and refuse industry companies and trade groups, particularly in Southern California, who worried that if the packaging industry was forced to create a broad new recycling system, it could cut into their businesses.

Among the supporters of the bills were most of California’s major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Audubon California, Natural Resources Defense Council and Oceana. The proposals also were endorsed by the California Coastal Commission, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and numerous cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Half Moon Bay, Alameda and others.

Opponents included the California Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Industry Council of California, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Plastic Shipping Container Institute and other industry groups.

Critics said many of the large companies already are working toward the bills’ goals. They also called the measures overly broad and potentially costly. Eighty percent of the 25 largest consumer packaging companies have committed to making 100 percent of their packaging recyclable or compostable by 2030, industry officials noted, including the five largest — Nestle, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever and Anheuser Busch — which have set 2025 as their target date.

Amid the political stalemate, a relentless number of scientific studies and news accounts have established plastic pollution as a growing and serious environmental problem.

The facts are daunting. Half the plastic that has ever existed on Earth was made in the last 13 years. Only 9% of the plastic sold every year in the United States is recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Up to 13 million metric tons of it ends up in the world’s ocean each year — the equivalent of a garbage truck-full being dumped into the sea every minute — where it kills fish, birds, sea turtles, whales and dolphins that eat it or become entangled by it.

Because plastic, which is made by petroleum products, lasts hundreds of years, it does not decompose, but instead breaks down into trillions of tiny pieces, some microscopic. Studies have shown they end up in fish, in rain, and in food that humans are consuming, including fish.

A study published in 2015 by the non-profit San Francisco Estuary Institute found that at least 3.9 million pieces of plastic pour into the bay every day from eight large sewage treatment plants — leaving the bay with higher concentration than the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and other major U.S. bodies of water.

Another study published last month by the Desert Research Institute in Reno found for the first time the existence of microplastics in Lake Tahoe’s famed blue waters, with many pieces so small they are barely visible. Scientists said they don’t know for sure how the plastic particles got into the lake. But they noted it comes from synthetic clothing, Styrofoam packaging, food containers and other litter, which once broken down can be moved miles by wind, rain and snow.

In California, plastics that once were recycled now are not.

Last year, China announced that it would no longer accept large amounts of plastic and other materials recycled in the United States for processing.

That caused a huge glut of of waste plastic and other materials in California and other states. A few other Asian countries began buying more, but overall prices fell. With fewer markets, some cities that collect plastic in blue recycling bins at the curb have had to pay to get rid of it. Others have put the materials into landfills.

In August, rePlanet, one of the California’s largest recycling businesses, closed 284 collection centers across the state.


original story from mercurynews

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