It is still the beginning of the year, but for state legislatures the race is already on to complete work before the 2017 session ends.
By mid-February, Florida and Louisiana will be the only two states that haven't started their sessions, and by the time Louisiana gets to business on April 10, 13 states will already have adjourned. Over 200 bills are already being tracked in ISRI's State Legislative Tracking System with more arriving every day. We've outlined a few trends below, but if you'd like more information on a particular bill, pointers on the system, or details on any of ISRI's other advocacy resources, please contact Danielle Waterfield or Justin Short.
Continuing with the latest trends in legislation concerning paper/plastic bag bans and packaging requirements, it appears that paper and plastic recyclers should not let their guard down in 2017 as we are already observing new legislation by sponsors advocating the need to rid the environment of what is perceived as a nuisance and landfill magnet. Following the approval of California's bag ban by referendum last year, 19 bills either banning, imposing a fee, or otherwise encouraging retailers to abandon paper and/or plastic shopping bags have already been introduced. Many of these bills also impose labeling and minimum recycled content requirements.
As the concept of extended producer responsibility (i.e. manufacturer take-back) continues to attract legislators' attention as a way to deal with the costs of landfill operations and solid waste matters, paper and plastic materials are increasingly being drawn into the discussion. Despite the fact that viable markets exist for these valuable commodities, legislators often fail to see through the fog of the EPR attraction. The state of Indiana is the latest to enter the fray with the introduction of SB 326, which proposes that producers take command of the recycling of various paper products as well as beverage containers, bags and film, and other metals, paper, and plastics. In the state of New York, SB 1935 sets standards and minimum recycling rates for packaging. These types of producer responsibility bills would interfere with the free market flow of many recyclable commodities by giving manufacturers responsibility and control of where and how those materials are recycled.
All is not bad news, though. The focus on paper and plastic seems to be originating from local government concerns and some states have stepped in to stop this ill-advised movement. Last year Arizona, Idaho, and Michigan all passed "auxiliary container" legislation, which preempts local ordinances seeking to ban, tax, or otherwise regulate the use of bags, bottles, and other packaging, while Missouri in 2015 banned local action on paper and plastic bags specifically. This year South Carolina was the first out the gate with HB 3529 banning local regulation of auxiliary containers, while companion bills in the New York Assembly and Senate seek to prohibit New York City from banning or taxing merchandise bags. However, preempting local law is not a popular or easy thing to accomplish in state government and so ISRI members need to be involved to keep the discussions from being hijacked by other interests.
ISRI opposes bans and fees on paper and plastic bags that are being manufactured into useful, commodity grade materials and sold into viable, commercial markets without subsidies or noncompetitive, fixed pricing. While states continue to jockey over whether or not to impose market restrictions on bags and packaging, ISRI will continue to advocate for free and fair, competitive, market-based systems for the trade of recyclable materials.