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Plastic Reduction Bill Fails

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, holds a copy of S.4246 during a floor debate on the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act on the state Senate floor.

State Sen. George Borrello will live to fight the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act another day.

Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, argued forcefully against the legislation during the closing day of the state legislative session last week. Sponsored by Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Peekskill, S.4246/A.5322 was approved in the state Senate 37-23, largely along party lines, but failed to come to a vote in the state Assembly before the close of Friday’s session. The bill could still be approved in the Assembly if a special session is called before the end of the year.

The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act would require companies with net income of more than $1 million who sell or distribute certain materials and products to reduce packaging, improve recycling and recycling infrastructure, financially support municipal recycling programs, and reduce toxins in packaging. Harckham said the legislation shifts the onus of recycling from municipalities to manufacturers in an attempt to entice companies to use more sustainable packaging.

Four other states – Maine, Oregon, Colorado and California – have implemented similar legislation.

“The health impacts of these products cannot be understated and the costs have been passed on to our consumers and to our taxpayers,” Harckham said. “All this bill is doing is asking for them to be better corporate citizens and to be more sustainable with their practices and their packaging. So again I want to thank the thousands of people in New York state who refuse to take no for an answer, who kept pushing us and pushing us. I want to say that we truly did take stakeholders into account and much of what is in this bill is exactly what they wanted, so if some folks want to keep pushing the goal post out, you know, I understand that that’s our business. At some point there are pencils down. This is a balanced bill. This bill addresses the concerns of industry, it addresses the concerns of public health and it addresses the concerns of our environment.”

Borrello was among several Republicans who debated Harckham on the Senate floor. The local senator argued that the bill will reduce consumer choice in New York and drive business in border regions into Pennsylvania if companies pull their products in New York. Harckham said it’s estimated local governments would save a combined $250 million by keeping plastics out of county landfills.

“Yeah, $250 million – that’s almost a day’s worth of running state government,” Borrello said. “It will be an amazing amount of money we’re going to save. No matter how you slice this, this is going to lead to less choice for our consumers. It’s going to lead to higher costs. … Maybe they’ll make good on their promise that they’re just not going to sell the products in New York state. Somebody else will, but it’ll be at a higher cost. We talk about the affordability crisis in New York state. This is not going to make New York more affordable, but more importantly it’s not going to do a damn thing to impact plastic waste on a global scale, not even a national scale.”

There was intense lobbying by organizations supporting and opposing the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act. Farms aired concerns that packaging costs will increase at a time when the farm economy is struggling due to inflation and higher employee costs. State Farm Bureau officials had asked lawmakers to conduct an impact study before passing the bill. Versions of the legislation had been included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal before eventually falling out of the spending plan. Additional changes were made before the Senate’s approval last week, but state Assembly members decided not to bring the packaging bill to the Assembly floor for a vote.

A Siena Poll released in May showed voters support policies to reduce single-use plastic packaging in New York, with 82% of respondents saying single-use plastic packaging is a problem and 67% supporting the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act. Borrello, however, wondered how strong that support would be if it factored in a further increase in consumer prices for some goods or products not being available in New York because companies didn’t want to change their packaging. He called for federal policy to address the recycling crisis created, in part, by China’s 2018 change in policy toward U.S. recycled materials.

“According to a Siena poll, 67% of New Yorkers think that plastic waste is a problem,” Borrello said. “I think plastic waste is a problem. I agree, but do they agree on the solutions? Because it’s funny. Folks, when it comes to the CLCPA and all these environmental issues, everybody’s all in until they realize what’s it’s going to cost them. … We’re actually going to encourage the drive in their fossil fuel vehicles a little bit further to go get that item that they want – those Lunchables that their kids want to take to lunch, that package of cheese or whatever it is. And if you don’t think it’s going to happen, it’s already happening. My district borders the state of Pennsylvania for about a 100 miles straight and people go to Pennsylvania all the time for all kinds of things and instead of going to the Wegmans in Jamestown, N.Y. they’ll go to the Wegmans in Erie, Pa., to get the products that they want.”

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