A California bill that tackles the plastic pollution crisis at the source by requiring a reduction in single-use plastics was advanced by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday after its author added environmental justice provisions.
The California Legislature must approve the legislation, SB 54, by June 30 for it to serve as an alternative to a ballot initiative set to appear on the Nov 8 general election ballot. Proponents of the ballot proposal would remove it from the ballot if the bill passes by then.
The bill would have producers reduce single-use plastics packaging by at least 25% by 2032. It would also ban expanded polystyrene foodware by January 1, 2025, unless the industry is able to demonstrate a 25% recycling rate for the prior year as determined by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
SB 54 also would order producers and plastics resin manufacturers to pay $500 million a year for 10 years starting in 2027 for environmental mitigation of harms to disadvantaged, low-income, and rural communities, and to recover, restore, and protect the natural environment.
Assembly Natural Resources Committee chair Luz Rivas (D) said Tuesday that the bill’s recent amendment of adding more environmental justice initiatives encouraged more lawmakers to vote in favor of the legislation. Amendments were made the past few days by lead author Sen. Ben Allen (D).
“This would not be moving forward without those environmental justice provisions in there, the strengthening of these protections for our communities,” Rivas said.
The voter initiative would go further than the legislative deal. It would ban polystyrene food take-out containers and impose a tax of as much as 1 cent per item on products. That tax could generate several billion dollars in revenue in the near term, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said.
Critics of the ballot proposal raised $600,000 fighting the measure, saying the tax was an additional cost for consumers amid rising energy prices and inflation.