Bill that targeted single use plastic packaging dies in state assembly
Hannah Hagemann, Monterey Herald
Environmentalists might have been one step closer to decreasing single-use plastics in the e-commerce industry, if a bill that would have required companies to cut down and recycle packaging passed through the state assembly last week.
But it didn’t, and Assembly member Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, wasn’t surprised.
“Plastic policy, since I have been a legislator, has been a real struggle,” Stone said. “These bills are difficult to get passed, just given the pressure from the industry, who don’t want to participate and don’t feel any obligation to be a part of any solution.”
Assembly Bill 1371, on which Stone was a coauthor, would have mandated online retailers like Amazon, who ship or deliver goods wrapped in single-use plastic packaging to shift to reusable, or recyclable or compostable materials. The plastics targeted included shipping envelopes, bubble wrap, air pillows, packing peanuts and plastic foam.
If amended into law, it would have also required those e-commerce companies to offer recycling bins on-site, where consumers could pick up their products, and to keep records of the plastic, and how it was disposed.
“This bill was about bringing industry to the table, being sustainable, and pushing companies to make sure when products are shipped into California from China and other places in the world, they meet the same standards so many of our California companies are doing on their own,” Stone said. “This is the low hanging fruit.”
Oceana, an environmental nonprofit and scientific organization with roots in the Monterey Bay, also championed the legislation.
“We’ve been focused, rightfully so, on public health concerns of trying to be safe through this pandemic, so that has led to an increase in online purchasing,” said Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Oceana’s Pacific policy and communications manager.
“I’ve become more acutely aware of the volume of single-use plastics that are unnecessarily proliferated by our online purchases,” Blacow-Draeger said.
Alternatives to single-use plastic packaging, such as cardboard, are viable, according to both Stone and Blacow-Draeger.
“Amazon India, within a year of committing to do so, switched to a paper mailer, instead of a plastic mailer,” Blacow-Draeger said. “We know it can be done, so why are we not doing it here?”
Blacow-Draeger said some plastic shipping materials have the recyclable icon on them, but are not actually accepted at many municipalities, or require customers to drive to specific drop-off bins.
Assembly member Dr. Bill Quirk, D-Union City, echoed that sentiment during Thursday’s hearing.
“Plastics are very hard to recycle economically,” Quirk said. “It’s not a question of what’s physically possible it’s a question of the economics. As long as you have that economic barrier, were (going to) have a lot of plastics that are (going to) be used for five minutes and then be in a trash heap for the next couple thousand years.”
Looking to future
AB-1371 was part of a package of bills aimed to decrease plastic waste known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.
Blacow-Draeger said Oceana and other environmentalists remain hopeful that two bills in that package that both passed through the state assembly, may make their way to the senate.
One would expand California’s plastic straw law to other single-use cutlery items, and the other would establish a recycling system for refillable water bottles.
But Assembly member Stone questioned the most effective path forward to address large-scale plastic pollution.
“All the emphasis now is on recycling as the answer, but in the end that’s not the solution if we’re not reducing the amount of plastic coming into the environment, reusing when possible and only recycling what we need to at the end,” Stone said. “We continue to try and ban products or individual things…the solution is broader, within the economy, and addressing the amount of plastics being used, especially single-use plastic, rethinking how we use them, and what happens to them.”