California Legislative Activity and New Referendum

Date: 22 Nov 2019 | posted in: waste - recycling, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A private firm with environmental allies is pushing a referendum that would allow voters to decide recycling policies going forward.

All eyes have been on California’s recycling developments as the state faces challenges with falling recycling rates, confusion and decline in its container deposit system. The problems have created an opportunity for Extended Producer Responsibility advocates to claim that the only way forward is through corporate managed recycling to replace local government based recycling. If adopted citizens will be removed from the decision-making process. Instead of having access to their elected officials and leverage over them through voting, organized citizens will be at the mercy of corporate boards of directors of the very companies that produce and profit from waste.

Given that organized citizens have been the drivers of recycling and zero waste for the past 50 years, the goal of zero waste (90% diversion of materials in the waste stream with no incineration) will be impossible to reach.

Summary of Governor’s Actions on Recent Bills

Signed into law:

AB 1162 (Kalra) and Smoking Bans (SB 8 (Glazer) for sure, looking into AB 1718 (Levine))

AB 792 (Ting) was vetoed.

Recology, a private sector hauling firm based in the SF Bay Area, wants to cut through the slow pace of legislative activity. The company and its environmental allies propose a referendum to allow citizens to decide the next steps forward in policy formation. It would make unnecessary the inherent risks in giving brand name corporations the right to make their policies the force of law. The plastics industry is not pleased as they were depending on their lobbying acumen to guide policies.

“Supporters must collect 623,212 signatures of registered California voters by the end of April to qualify the proposed initiative for the November ballot.

Tim Shestek, a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, said the “timing of this new proposal strikes us as odd,” given that lawmakers are working on a major packaging recycling bill that could pass in January. Thus, the referendum is a ‘distraction’ from their legislative approach.[1]

See “California’s plastic pollution fight may be headed to voters” and “It’s time to talk about a California plastic tax.”

The referendum would require manufacturers to make all plastic packaging and single-use foodware items, including cups, straws and utensils, recyclable or compostable by 2030. The goal is to reduce the amount of plastic in the waste stream that typically winds up in landfills or incinerators.

It would also:

  • Create a fee of up to 1 cent for manufacturers on every plastic item or product with plastic packaging. The money would be used to build recycling and composting facilities, and to pay for restoration projects such as beach cleanups.
  • Prohibit food vendors, including restaurants and grocery stores, from using Styrofoam and other plastic-foam takeout containers.
  • Require manufacturers to reduce to the “maximum extent possible” the plastic packaging and single-use products they create. That could require them to offer more reusable containers.

Caryl Hart, a member of the California Coastal Commission who lives in Sebastopol, co-authored the initiative. She said the popularity of plastic, made from fossil fuels, has exacerbated climate change.

“We’re seeing activity in the Legislature, but there’s not success,” Hart said. “If California is not going to lead, who is going to?”

Potashner said the penny-or-less fee would build infrastructure like recycling plants and composting facilities so more California communities can dispose of waste locally instead of shipping it overseas.

“This initiative aims to hold the plastics industry accountable for the products they create,” Recology CEO Mike Sangiacomo said in a statement.

The company is willing to spend $1 million to qualify the initiative for the ballot, but the effort could cost at least several million dollars more. Potashner said other groups plan to contribute to the fight, but none has made a public commitment.

Environmentalists anticipate opposition from the deep-pocketed plastics industry, which spent heavily to defeat bills in the Legislature this year. The initiative would be voted on in November 2020.

Supporters claim that the referendum is intended to “get state lawmakers to do something in 2020 that they could not this year — pass a major bill designed to cut plastic pollution. We’re running out of time,” Potashner said. “We need a backup plan if the Legislature is not able to do something significant on plastic-packaging pollution.”

[1] See, Neil Seldman, Big Soda Challenges Recycling in California,

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.