January 14, 2022

CA Government Affairs Column: Bringing Reason into The Room

By Gail Delihant, Senior Director, California Government Affairs

The discussion to ban single-use packaging has been ongoing in the California Legislature for the past few years with the introduction of several bills related to the subject. All of them, except SB 343 (Allen – recycle labeling), have stalled due to successful lobbying efforts by Western Growers (WG) staff and a coalition of business interests.

Amidst these repeated legislative failures at the Capitol, environmentalists have pushed a plastic recycling initiative that is eligible for the November 2022 statewide ballot. It would levy a new one cent tax on producers of single-use plastic as well as require single-use plastic packaging, containers and utensils to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030. The tax would add funds to bureaucratic recycling and environmental programs.

California is not the only state to tackle this issue. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont have all enacted some kind of single-use plastic ban, as have Canada and Europe.

Why does the fresh produce industry care about this issue? Reducing single-use packaging and increasing plastic recycling is a laudable goal, but when it comes to agricultural commodities, this goal should not be at odds with the ability to provide affordable and safe food products or reduce food waste.

Packaging is part of the solution to tackle food waste as it plays a critical role in protecting products and resources. It keeps food in a protective atmosphere or vacuum and provides a barrier against oxygen and moisture, thereby optimizing humidity and temperature.

Packaging helps thwart and reduce waste by:

  • preventing food spoilage;
  • ensuring food quality and safety along the supply chain and at home;
  • informing consumers on how to use and store packaged food products; and
  • increasing shelf-life in the store and at home.

Additionally, the carbon footprint generated by food waste can be higher than that of plastic. The role of packaging in preventing food waste has been well researched and documented.

What WG is Doing to Fight the Single-Use Plastic Ban

Banning single-use packaging in the next five years will cause havoc for fresh produce growers, packers and shippers. This next legislative session will see yet another effort to address recycling and single-use plastics in California that will hopefully convince the proponents of the initiative to pull it from the ballot.

WG has been advocating for reasonable concessions on the issue when it comes to fresh produce and has been successful in receiving a few exemptions. WG will continue to be part of the ongoing conversation with industry partners throughout the country and Canada to try to bring reason into the room.