Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080 sought to eliminate 75% of single-use containers by 2030 to reduce unmarketable plastics statewide and lay the groundwork for a revamped California recycling industry.

California lawmakers adjourned early September 15, 2019, without acting on bills that would have made their state the first to partially phase out single-use containers, with supporters unable to overcome lobbying from industry opponents.

Prior to the bills’ demise, advocates hoped California could create a template for reducing waste, including plastic bottles and containers that end up in waterways and oceans.

“We want to show that we can build a model that we can truly scale around the rest of the world,” said Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), author of SB 54. “We also need to show the rest of the world that they can and ought to be doing something about this.”

The bills came in response to China’s decision to become more selective about the scrap it accepts from the U.S., which has created a huge glut of collected plastics and mixed paper, depressing the market for many items. With little revenue coming in, many local and state governments simply shut down their recycling programs, opting to dump previously recyclable items in landfills.

The bills zeroed in on plastics, an industry that has sidestepped recycling standards that other producers, such as glass and cardboard, must meet.

According to the bills, the United States alone discards 30 million tons of plastic each year, and global production of plastics has reached an annual tally of 335 million — a number expected to more than triple by 2050.

Allen, who introduced SB 54, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), author of AB 1080, sought to slow the production of virgin plastics and other nonrecyclable goods. Some industry groups opposed the emphasis on production, arguing for exemptions and winnowing down requirements.

Some were concerned by the authority granted to CalRecycle, the entity charged with overseeing compliance, and a lack of specifics about how the bill would be administered.

Legislators and proponents of the bills said they attempted to work with all sides while developing goals for waste reduction.