Unpacking the bottle cap bill

An array of juices with plastic bottle caps on store shelves. (Photo: Philip Pilosian, Shutterstock)

It is fascinating, in a very frustrating sort of way, to watch certain special interests come up with excuses for why legislation should not be passed when the facts clearly are not on their side. I witnessed it first hand as the author of California’s first state-wide plastic bag legislation 10 years ago.

Then and now, it often takes serious mental gymnastics to follow the rhetorical and “illogical” leaps of their arguments.  The current iteration is the beverage industry’s, massive and misleading lobbying campaign to defeat Assembly Bill 319, Assemblymember Mark Stone’s very reasonable proposal to require plastic caps be tethered to plastic bottles.

It is not unusual for contradictory statements to be made about the merits of legislation at a committee hearing. It happens daily.

Worldwide, 6.9 billion bottle caps are opened each and every day. And in California, it is estimated that five billion plastic caps end up polluting our environment on an annual basis. The caps harm marine life, and are eaten seabirds which mistake them for food. The caps also break down into micro-plastics and end up in the fish we eat.

Unfortunately, the industry neglects to accept responsibility for the problem, and is unwilling to be part of the solution. As a result, AB 319 was introduced to provide a simple, and appropriate remedy.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case as industry was very pro-active in solving a similar pollution problem back in the 70s: the soda pop-top —  the aluminum ring that came off after opening a can of soda. (Pop-tops disappeared almost overnight when the beverage industry perfected a better way to seal aluminum cans: the stay-topTM, which remains attached and gets recycled along with the rest of the can.)

This time, however, instead of taking responsibility for their product and being part of the solution, the beverage has come up with a new excuse:  technology doesn’t exist to meet the bill’s requirements. And even if it did, it would take 8 to 10 years to bring it to market.

To be sure, it is not unusual for contradictory statements to be made about the merits of legislation at a committee hearing. It happens daily.

But, this one drew outright laughs, even from veteran Legislature watchers. Why? Because the industry lobbyist’s straight-faced testimony that such technology didn’t exist, came immediately after the entire room saw a beverage company CEO show off the technology that very technology that supposedly didn’t exist. And not only that, the manufacturer – which produces popular Crystal Geyser spring water — added that “it makes financial sense” to produce plastic bottles this way.

He is not the only one in his industry touting tethered caps. Another innovator, this one based in San Bruno, has shown legislators its patented solution (which, it says, requires no extra cost to bottlers).

ThisCap is working with a company whose machines are used to manufacture more than 50% of all tamper evident ring flat caps use worldwide. The cap – exactly the type that would be required under Assembly Bill 319 — is slated to hit the shelves in Asia, India and South Africa in less than eight months (not the eight years the lobbyist claimed).

During my tenure as a legislator, I made recycling and waste reduction one of my top issues, carrying several successful and effective pieces of legislation. I know that this measure is very reasonable. It doesn’t add any fees, or deprive consumers of products or choices. California lawmakers should not fall for the beverage industry’s misleading fearmongering.

Instead, they should reward the innovation of those who are interested in solving the increasing problem of plastic pollution by passing Assembly Bill 319.

Ed’s Note: Lloyd Levine served in the California Assembly from 2002 until 2008.

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