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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Plastic Recycling Bill Fails to Win Support

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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Sen. Ben Allen.

September 16, 2019 -- Santa Monica State Senator Ben Allen vowed Monday to bring back a bill that would phase out the sale and distribution of single-use plastics after California lawmakers adjourned early Saturday without taking action.

Senate Bill 54 and its companion, Assembly Bill 1080 sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, would have phased out the sale and distribution of 75 percent of the California's single-use plastics by 2030.

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On Monday, Allen said he was "disappointed" AB 54 didn't pass and plans to continue working with all stakeholders to bring the bill back next year.

"Going into the final week of session, following the last round of amendments, a significant number of previously-opposed industry groups came on in support, or went neutral," Allen said in a statement issued Monday.

"This gave us momentum in advance of an Assembly vote, and I am confident that if taken up in time the measure would have passed both houses and been signed into law by the governor," Allen said.

"I remain committed to getting a strong policy in law that not only addresses the plastics and waste crisis here in California, but that can also serve as a model for the world to address this critical issue globally," he said.

"We’ll be working during the interim and bring this bill back in the coming year.”

Allen and Gonzalez's bills were introduced after China stopped accepting recyclables from the U.S. under its "Sword Policy" two years ago, leading to the shuttering of hundreds of recycling facilities across the state.

The bills were introduced after China stopped accepting recyclables from the U.S. under its "Sword Policy" two years ago, leading to the shuttering of hundreds of recycling facilities across the state.

The fallout included the Santa Monica Community Recycling Center, which closed in June ("Closing Buyback Center Will Hurt Local Consumers, Increase Litter, Watchdog Groups Warns," June 14, 2019).

Allen and Gonzalez's bills would have developed regulations that require manufacturers and retailers to design packaging that reduces unnecessary waste, Allen's office said.

The legislation also would have required all single-use packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable after 2030.

Allen had hoped the bills would serve as a worldwide model and encourage other countries to take action to curb an estimated 17.6 billion pounds of plastic that enters the ocean from land-based sources every year, according to Allen's office.

The two bills were opposed by industry lobbyists, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and waste management companies.

They argued the legislation was not specific enough and granted too much power to the State's enforcement agency CalRecycle.

When the legislation failed to gain the necessary support despite a social media blitz, proponents negotiated a compromise in he form of AB 54 and AB 792, introduced by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco.

The bills -- which are headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk -- reduce the amount of virgin plastics in beverage containers to 50 percent.

They also earmark $5 million to fund a pilot mobile recycling project that would be supervised by CalRecycle.

Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto the bills.

Environmentalists bemoaned the failure of Allen and Gonzalez's more far-reaching legislation.

"California had the opportunity to be a national leader in protecting the planet and its inhabitants from the plastic increasingly entering our oceans, soil, air, food and bodies," Christy Leavitt, the director of Oceana plastics said in a statement.

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