Opinion

Bills for recycle program well intentioned, but fall short

Recycle bins behind a supermarket in Scotts Valley, Calif. (Photo: Michael Barajas, via Shutterstock)

Every year during the end-of-session debates in the Legislature, bills that had previously stalled suddenly get new life. Sometimes, it’s the result of a grand bargain struck to advance long-held policy objectives. Other times, it’s the result of public pressure created by an emerging crisis.

Given the ongoing public health and economic emergencies, not to mention a frustrating shortage of electricity supply during one of the worst heat waves in recent memory, there is sure to be a big push for policies that can mitigate the impacts of these crises and help the state’s residents and economy stay safe and recover in the months to come.

Even the California Department of Finance acknowledges that “certain provisions of [AB 1080 and] SB 54 are infeasible to implement with current technology.”

But other bills that were sidelined should stay that way – at least until better policy can be developed to deliver a better outcome for all Californians.

Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54 may be well intentioned bills but fail to address the fundamental, structural issues to ensure materials actually get recycled or composted. There’s no doubt that fixing California’s recycling program is a noble goal, and as the statewide representative for manufacturing I am always happy to report that manufacturers are the biggest consumers of material recycled from end-of-life products and industrial scrap.

But the truth is that these bills will effectively ban packaging for and many consumer products that Californians rely on and create even more bureaucracy and state spending – all without doing a single thing in the bills to fix our state’s broken recycling infrastructure. Without a thoughtful approach, even the best-intentioned efforts can have unintended consequences – often when we can least afford them.

Fixing this system will require a thoughtful approach that provides for long-term investments in technology and infrastructure required to improve California’s capacity and ability to process recycled plastics and other materials to manufacture it into new products. Even the California Department of Finance acknowledges that “certain provisions of [AB 1080 and] SB 54 are infeasible to implement with current technology.”

The policies prescribed by AB 1080 and SB 54, will not fix our recycling woes , and they will add tens of millions of dollars in costs to the state, increase operating costs for thousands of businesses that have already been struggling amid an unprecedented economic downturn, and make it even harder to achieve the circular economy that will ensure recycled products are actually manufactured into new products that consumers and businesses can use.

Moreover, AB 1080 and SB 54 will further burden our state budget at a time when the Legislature could be faced with making even more cuts to housing, education, healthcare and other important programs in the coming months. Earmarking more than $20 million for an ineffective recycling program siphons off budgetary resources and government attention at a time when Californians need them most. AB 1080 and SB 54 will also grant CalRecycle the authority to impose, without legislative approval, new fees and extraordinary penalties on consumers and manufacturers who fail to meet the recycling rates by the dates within the bills – and do nothing to ensure recycling and composting infrastructure is sufficient to address the need.

Even as the economy has begun reopening, California’s jobless rate still stands at 14.9 percent and thousands of businesses have been forced to close their doors permanently. We need our leaders in Sacramento to focus their energies on helping to keep job-creating business open and getting millions of unemployed Californians back on their feet. Creating a new multimillion-dollar bureaucracy that will only exacerbate the problems it seeks to solve shouldn’t even be on legislators’ priority lists.

Dealing with our state’s recycling problem is certainly an important issue, but it is one that is not best solved by the policies prescribed by AB 1080 and SB 54 and it won’t be solved without addressing the massive amounts of investment needed for innovation and technology.  Let’s put these bills on the shelf and get back to work for long term solutions next year.

Ed’s Note: Lance Hastings is the president of the California Manufactures and Technology Association.


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