A contentious bill to create an extended producer responsibility program for packaging, SB 54 , passed the California State Assembly on Wednesday night. The bill must pass the Senate and be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday in order to convince authors of a competing ballot measure to withdraw their proposal.
Despite the extremely tight deadline, bill supporters have hope the measure will succeed. In the last two days, it passed two committees with near-unanimous support and the Assembly with a vote of 67-2.
If passed, SB 54 would be the most notable EPR bill in the nation, and could influence future legislation in other states. The bill would create an extended producer responsibility program for printed paper and plastic packaging, require certain reductions and eliminations in single-use plastic packaging, promote reuse or refill systems and implement eco-modulated fees and environmental justice provisions.
Previous versions of the bill have failed to pass for the last three years, including in 2020, when it failed by a narrow margin.
The executive director of the National Stewardship Action Council, who has been heavily involved in the bill process, said years of consensus-building is the key to the bill’s success so far.
“What we’ve done is hard,” said Heidi Sanborn, adding that stakeholders such as haulers, environmentalists and municipalities “had to stretch to make this happen and meet in the middle, and everybody had to give on something, but we did not have to give on the most important issues.”
Supporters have been negotiating with petitioners of the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, a plastics fee ballot measure with similar goals to the bill. Ballot initiative supporters have said their measure is more straightforward, sets earlier timelines for plastic reduction targets and directly bans expanded polystyrene containers, but SB 54 supporters say their bill is more comprehensive and offers more contract protections for haulers and MRFs. Should SB 54 pass, petitioners are expected to rescind their measure from the November ballot.
Many environmental groups and municipalities currently support the bill, while major hauler WM has taken a neutral position, according to testimony from a company representative at Tuesday’s Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing. Republic Services supports SB 54, despite reservations over some of the bill’s late amendments. A company representative at the hearing did not give specifics on the concerns, but said he trusts they will be addressed in a forthcoming cleanup bill. Sanborn expects the cleanup bill would be introduced before the state’s legislative session ends in August. Other environmental groups that once opposed the bill now are listed in support.
The Association of California Recycling Industries, whose members include some California regional haulers and paper recyclers, opposes the bill, saying it “treats packaging materials as waste, even if they are valuable recyclable materials.” The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ West Coast chapter also opposes the bill without some amendments.
The American Chemistry Council issued a statement after the Assembly vote saying SB 54 is “not the optimal legislation to drive California towards a circular economy,” but that the organization would work with lawmakers and CalRecycle to implement the bill if passed. ACC expressed concerns that the ballot measure petitioners have not yet rescinded the measure, which the organization calls “anti-plastics.”