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California lawmakers fail to act on recycling bills to phase out single-use plastics

Piper McDaniel, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

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

Two bills, Senate Bill 54 and companion legislation Assembly Bill 1080, sought to eliminate 75% of single-use containers by 2030, reducing the glut of unmarketable plastics statewide and laying the groundwork for a revamped California recycling industry.

Before the bills' demise, advocates hoped California could create a template for reducing waste, 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, a Democrat and 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 response to China's decision to become more selective about the scrap it accepts from the U.S., which has created a huge glut of collected plastics and mixed paper, depressing the market for many items. With little revenue coming in, many local and state governments simply shut down their recycling programs, opting to dump previously recyclable items in landfills.

The bills zeroed in on plastics, an industry that has sidestepped recycling standards that other producers, such as glass and cardboard, must meet.


Advocates hoped the legislation would prop up a recycling industry that at its apex only recycled a fraction of the materials collected.

"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."

Allen, who introduced SB 54, and Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, author of AB 1080, sought to slow the production of virgin plastics and other nonrecyclable goods. Some industry groups opposed the emphasis on production, arguing for exemptions and winnowing down requirements.

Legislators and proponents of the bills said they attempted to work with all sides while developing goals for waste reduction.


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