Last year, elections at the state level had an outsized importance similar to elections at the federal level. A major driver was the 2020 census and the redistricting that will happen starting next year for Congressional and state legislative districts. State legislatures generally oversee that process, so an incredible amount of money and attention was spent on who will control legislative chambers going into 2021. The control of state legislatures alsowill have an impact on key FPA issues, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and recycled-content mandates.
Important state legislative chambers to monitor in 2021 include the Maine Senate, Minnesota Senate, Michigan House, and the Arizona House. Legislative majorities that are more progressive on environmental issues could indicate swifter action on EPR, recycled content, and other policies that will impact flexible packaging.
Additionally, in a typical election year, state legislatures would have long since adjourned. However, since COVID-19 has changed the calendar and changed priorities, a few key states like California, Oregon, Washington, and New Jersey were continuing work on policy proposals through 2020. Consider this summary of where some debates stand:
In a hard-fought effort, SB 54/AB 1080 fell four votes shy of passing as the California Legislature ended its two-year session in August. The flexible packaging industry has been engaged in active advocacy on this bill, which would have set mandatory recycling rates and dates for packaging.
Additionally, the Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling—created by AB 1583—have been meeting to discuss policy recommendations that will help California achieve its 75% recycling, composting, and source-reduction goal. This commission is expected to recommend legislation for 2021. Many industry players, including FPA, have now expressed concern with the lack of industry perspectives with this commission.
The New Jersey Legislature continues to consider SB 2515 and AB 4676 that would establish new recycled content standards for rigid plastic containers, glass containers, paper carryout bags, plastic trash bags, and reusable carryout bags made of plastic film. It also would prohibit the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging. The bills have had several hearings in the Senate Environment Committee and were expected to move in December. While the focus has been on rigid plastic packages, the precedent will have an impact beyond just the listed packaging types—as this could be the first recycled content mandate to pass in a state in nearly 30 years.
The Recycling Steering Committee has now released its recommendations. Elements in the recommendations include truth in labeling requirements, contamination reduction, uniform statewide recycling lists, and EPR. As a result, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is likely to propose 2021 legislation with a statewide list of accepted materials and an EPR requirement.
The Plastic Packaging Evaluation and Assessment Law is currently being completed and was due to be delivered to the state legislature before 2021. Under the bill, the state Department of Ecology (DoE) commissioned an independent study of plastic packaging that will offer recommendations for reducing plastic packaging waste. These recommendations were commented on in September. They focus heavily on EPR and recycled content mandates. They will likely help spur EPR legislation for 2021 in Washington.
If the current policy trajectory of these issues in key states holds, 2021 will be an extremely active year for the flexible packaging industry at the state level.