If you’ve ever purchased anything from Amazon, you’ve probably had to open a plastic bubble mailer and then a second or even third plastic wrapper to get at the thing you ordered. 

It’s one reason why more than 300 advocates and elected officials converged on Albany Tuesday to push lawmakers to pass a bill to reduce packaging. Advocates argue that single-use plastic is one of the most serious issues facing the environment. 

If the so-called “Packaging Reduction & Recycling Act," sponsored by New York state Sen. Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, passes, it would make producers of packaging responsible for the costs of consumer waste, cutting down on that plastic. 

“The bill is important because we’re drowning in waste,” Harckham, chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, told Capital Tonight. “Taxpayers are paying the price and the cost of disposal of expendable single-use packaging, single-use plastics, whether it be in increased taxes or increased tonnage fees to haul waste.”

But business interests are lobbying against elements of the bill, saying it will increase costs and lead to fewer choices for consumers.

Ken Pokalsky, vice president of the Business Council of New York, told Capital Tonight that while business groups across the state are not against the concept of “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR, they are against this particular bill. 

“This started out as a bill to increase recycling. In the current version, it’s a bill to ban materials,” Pokalsky said. “That’s a big difference from what other states have done.”

A loose coalition of over 100 companies are working with the Business Council of New York on this issue.

Rather than the current iteration of the Harckham-Glick bill, Pokalsky said the bill should focus on improving recycling rates and ensuring that manufacturers are putting money on the table to update their design and packaging production. 

Another element of the bill — one that prohibits certain toxic substances that contain particular chemicals — is being opposed by the EPS Industry Alliance. EPS, or Expanded Polystyrene, is what containers that ship produce are made from. 

In an email to Capital Tonight, the Alliance wrote, “Chemical toxicity is typically covered under federal laws that include appropriate criteria to establish a threshold to determine risk versus harm. In the case of food packaging, it is relevant to note that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has stringent criteria that must be met before receiving approval for food contact.”

EPS went on to say that without a detailed toxicological review of the proposed chemical list, the legislation “could eliminate various plastic, paper and other packaging materials that are perfectly safe." 

Pokalsky echoed that sentiment.

“If the substances that would be banned in this bill are taken off the market in two years, which is what the bill does, companies would be scrambling for substance,” he said. 

Because of what the Business Council calls the bill’s “aggressive packaging use reduction mandate," there is also a fear that companies will do away with single-serve packaging that is less expensive for consumers. 

But Senate bill sponsor and Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee strongly disagreed with that analysis.

“No, I don’t think that will happen at all. I’m chuckling because that’s not even conceived in the bill,” Harckham told Capital Tonight. “What we’re saying is, if you want to use single serve packaging, just use packaging that’s recyclable or environmentally friendly.”

When asked about the prohibition in the bill on certain toxic substances like polystyrene in food packaging which is regulated by the FDA, Harckham said that nothing in the bill supersedes federal law.

“But we also envision technology moving forward. If you talk to the folks in the food safety industry as I have, they’re just a couple years away from new materials that are fully recyclable, that don’t have toxins and can be used to comply with FDA regulations,” he said. “A big part of this is the innovation and technology of industry and packaging as we move forward.”

An amendment to the bill creates a toxin task force to make determinations about future chemicals to be deemed toxic, as opposed to designating that responsibility to DEC.

Pokalsky, Harckham and the EPS Industry Alliance told Capital Tonight that lawmakers, industry and agriculture have met to try to reach a compromise. Those meetings have already resulted in several changes to the bill, including:

  • raising the threshold for companies from $1 million gross revenue to $5 million gross revenue
  • raising the requirement from one ton to two tons use of packing material in a calendar year
  • ensuring that the bill does not impact a producer’s eligibility for tax credits or incentives. 

It’s not clear if the bill will be further amended.