Time to show how to tackle scourge of plas­tic trash

The Korea Times - - OPINION - The above ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the Los An­ge­les Times. It was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

Will Cal­i­for­nia show the na­tion how to take on the enor­mous prob­lem of sin­gle-use plas­tic? Or will state law­mak­ers chicken out un­der heavy lob­by­ing by plas­tic mak­ers who are happy to con­tinue to cover the world in dis­carded wa­ter bot­tles, used food wrap­pers and count­less other pieces of dis­pos­able pack­ag­ing?

We will find out soon. It’s not an over­state­ment to say that the fate of one of the world’s big­gest sources of pol­lu­tion hangs on the pas­sage of the Cal­i­for­nia Cir­cu­lar Econ­omy and Plas­tic Pol­lu­tion Re­duc­tion Act, by As­sem­bly­woman Lorena Gon­za­lez (D-San Diego) and Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Mon­ica).

This leg­is­la­tion — which will be passed or die on Fri­day, the last day for the Leg­is­la­ture to pass new bills this year — would fun­da­men­tally re­shape the prod­uct pack­ag­ing in­dus­try by re­quir­ing prod­ucts sold in the state to be wrapped in ma­te­rial that is be­ing re­cy­cled or com­posted at a 75 per­cent rate by 2030.

This is im­por­tant be­cause even though most plas­tic is the­o­ret­i­cally re­cy­clable, very lit­tle of it ac­tu­ally gets re­cy­cled. Only about 6 per­cent of the some 83 bil­lion met­ric tons of plas­tic ever pro­duced has been re­cy­cled.

The rest can be found some­where in our en­vi­ron­ment, pos­si­bly as tiny par­ti­cles in the ocean or the food you’re eat­ing. And that gap is likely to grow.

Even while plas­tic pro­duc­tion has in­creased, the global de­mand for used plas­tic bot­tles and bags to turn into some­thing else has all but dried up.

If the bill be­comes law, man­u­fac­tur­ers over the next decade will have to build re­cy­cling plants for their plas­tic de­ter­gent con­tain­ers and potato chip bags (cre­at­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs! Pres­i­dent Trump’s gonna love this law), or repack­age them in a ma­te­rial that is com­postable or al­ready re­cy­cled at a high rate, such as glass.

And if Cal­i­for­nia — which has the fifth-largest econ­omy on the planet — de­mands sus­tain­able pack­ag­ing, the world’s man­u­fac­tur­ers will lis­ten.

What’s re­mark­able is how many or­ga­ni­za­tions that stand to be af­fected have dropped their ini­tial op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing the Cal­i­for­nia Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, the Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Chem­istry Coun­cil.

The state’s gro­cers have gone one step fur­ther and now sup­port the bill, which is re­ally as­ton­ish­ing con­sid­er­ing that gro­cery stores would see many of the prod­ucts on their shelves re­con­fig­ured un­der this bill. Those busi­nesses de­serve a lot of credit for not stand­ing in the way of a law that, while good for the planet, would force a big change to their op­er­a­tions.

Now it’s time for leg­is­la­tors and the gov­er­nor to show their sup­port. They have an im­por­tant choice to make: They can show the world how to tackle the scourge of plas­tic trash. Or they can demon­strate how fear of po­lit­i­cal fall­out is the big­gest ob­sta­cle to our en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges. No pres­sure.

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