In October Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a host of new laws designed to restrict use of plastic utensils, change recycling labels, limit exports of plastic waste, and even boost individual composting. The message to voters was clear: California will lead the battle against consumer waste. Unfortunately for taxpayers, some view that “progress” as an open invitation to push more punitive measures.
At least one waste management company (the same one that just paid $36 million in fines for bribery and corruption) has already bet millions on a ballot initiative that would create a whole new system for deciding which plastic products get banned, which get regulated, and which get taxed.
In theory, a new one-cent “fee” on consumer goods made or packaged with plastic would support recycling. In truth, only half of the money would actually go to the state recycling bureau. The rest gets spread around to various agencies and special interests.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the tax is expected to bring in a few billion dollars annually. Spent wisely, that’s enough to do a lot of recycling. But we already pay a five- to ten-cent recycling deposit on every bottle and can purchased in California – adding up to at least 60 cents per 12-pack – along with billions more in property taxes to support waste collection, sorting, and disposal.
The new “Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative” tax would add to that burden by raising the cost of basic goods, like wipes, snacks, diapers, household cleaning supplies, and other everyday items. Local convenience stores, restaurants and pharmacies would be forced to raise prices. Wealthy buyers may not notice the difference, but for families at the lowest end of the economic chain, it’s a needlessly punishing way to raise revenue.
Inflation is already pushing up prices on everything from gas to food, to household items, so it’s easy to wonder why California voters would be asked to approve a tax hike on basic goods.
There is money to be made protecting the environment. Backers of the ballot measure are betting that consumers will vote for any proposal that sounds earth-friendly – rather than read the fine print and demand better solutions to our waste management challenges.
Watch for the “Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative” and don’t be fooled. Read the fine print.
What would this plastic initiative tax do? According to Ballotpedia:
The ballot initiative would require the California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery (CalRecycle), in consultation with other agencies, to adopt regulations that reduce the use of single-use plastic packaging and foodware, including:
- requiring producers to ensure that single-use plastic packaging and foodware is recyclable, reusable, refillable, or compostable by 2030;
- requiring producers to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging or foodware that CalRecycle determines is unnecessary for product or food item delivery;
- requiring producers to reduce the amount of single-use plastic packaging and foodware sold in California by at least 25 percent by 2030;
- requiring producers to use recycled content and renewable materials in the production of single-use plastic packaging and foodware;
- establishing “mechanisms for convenient consumer access to recycling,” including take-back programs and deposits;
- establishing and enforcing labeling standards to support the sorting of discarded single-use plastic packaging and foodware; and
- prohibiting food vendors from distributing expanded polystyrene food service containers.
Clean Coasts, Clean Water, Clean Streets, also known as Plastics Free California, is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative, and already has a war chest of $4.26 million, Ballotpedia reports.
The tax may start at a penny, but the proposed ballot measure includes language allowing the fee to rise beginning in 2030. Ultimately, it will become just another sales tax, part of the premium cost we all pay to live in California. Cash will flow to special interests that fight to increase the fees. And, as agencies look to shore-up misspent budgets, new goods will be targeted.
If higher taxes were the answer on waste management, we’d already have the cleanest communities in the world. Voters should beware the so-called “Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative” and instead demand that legislators consider solutions that don’t add to tax burdens on working families.
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