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Calif. bill sought to require product makers to reduce plastic trash polluting the ocean

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SAN FRANCISCO - A California bill that would have required manufacturers to figure out how to keep the most common plastic junk out of state waterways died in the state Assembly without a vote Friday.

Assembly Bill 521 was before the chamber's Appropriations Committee, and the panel failed to act on it, effectively killing the legislation for the session. It had previously passed the Assembly Natural Resource Committee.

State Assemblyman Mark Stone, a D-Monterey Bay, one of the proposal's sponsors, was disappointed by the outcome.

"Plastic pollution will continue to harm our oceans and coastline, so Assemblymember Stone is committed to working on this problem," said Arianna Smith, Stone's legislative and communications director.

Once in the ocean, plastic takes ages to decompose. The manmade junk either collects into floating trash islands called "garbage patches," or it breaks into smaller pieces that harm and kill sea creatures throughout the food chain.

It's a complex problem with no easy fix, but some European countries have already implemented "extended producer responsibility" laws with some success.

AB521 would have required manufacturers to figure out how to reduce 95 per cent of plastic pollution along the state's coastline by 2024. It carried financial penalties for companies that did not comply: up to $10,000 per day for the worst violations.

Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, said during Friday's Appropriations Committee meeting that he opposed the measure in part because it singled out one industry as the source of ocean pollution.

"I agree that cleaning up our oceans should be something that's very, very important to us, but this bill places the burden of compliance directly on the producers instead of the violators, the people who are littering," Linder said.

The regulation was just the latest California legislative attempt to address some of the world's toughest environmental problems, often at the expense of private business, critics say.

The state's large economy and population has already influenced automakers to produce cleaner burning cars, forced warning labels for toxic chemicals on a range of consumer products and put a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions from industrial sources.

"With nearly 40 million people in the state, what happens here matters whether it is cap-and-trade and renewable energy portfolio standards, solid waste reduction, water conservation," said Mark Gold, associate director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

"What happens in California matters both nationally and globally," he added.

Gold said legislation won't solve the plastic pollution problem, but could have a wide-ranging effect. The failed proposal could have been the first significant legislation in the U.S. to try to reduce the amount of plastic junk in the ocean that makes up trash formations such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the world's largest landfill.

The plastic industry, California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed the bill, saying they already fund recycling and other programs to reduce marine plastic pollution. Plus, they say, the bill asks manufacturers to develop new products or other ways to reduce trash, but it doesn't say how.

Extended producer responsibility laws have already taken root in more than two dozen European countries.

In France, nearly 90 per cent of consumer products are part of the "Green Dot" program, requiring manufacturers to pay into a program that recovers and recycles packaging materials. It has successfully influenced manufacturers there to cut down on packaging or use alternative materials.

Stone's office said the assemblyman is unsure if he will reintroduce the bill next year. He is "weighing his options for how to continue to work to address this problem in the future," Smith said.

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Laura Olson contributed to this story from Sacramento.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130525/calif-bill-sought-require-product-makers-reduce-plastic-tras