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Solid waste is '90s hottest issue.

Solid Waste is '90s Hottest Issue

Plastics could face a slew of new legislation in the 1990's designed to protect the environment and workers. Solid-waste cleanup is still the hottest issue, but protection of the inner and outer atmosphere and limiting exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals are very high on legislators lists for action.

"Fiftyfour state proposals dealing with plastics in the waste stream were adopted by 32 states during 1989," reports Rod Lowman, v.p. of government affairs for the Council for Solid Waste Solutions (CSWS), a program of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), Inc., Washington, D.C. "Not one state legislature, however, restricted sale of plastic products to consumers," he says, adding that vast majority of proposals were acceptable to, or even supported by, the plastics industry. A total of 353 plastics-related proposals were introduced in various state and local legislatures during the year.

In solid-waste removal, recycling will be the key issue for plastics through the 1990's, evidenced by the proliferation of recycling-related legislation thus far (see graph). Development of recycling programs and recyclable products will be given highest priority, according to Lowman.

Mandatory coding of plastic products is a step toward nationwide recycling. Florida will be the first state to implement coding requirements as of July 1, 1990. Most states implementing coding systems will use the one developed by SPI, though some say they will develop their own.


Bans of plastic products, such as the now well-known Suffolk County, N.Y., law, are not as prevalent as they were just a short time ago. "Bans were just the stick to get the industry's attention, and it worked," according to Lowman. (The Suffolk County law was put on hold pending an environmental impact study, which still had not been done at press time.) Nevertheless, a variety of proposals introduced in 14 states, taxes, degradability requirements, and PS foam restrictions were considered in 1989. Of the 42 packaging tax proposals introduced in 14 states, none was passed.

With a push from the corn-growing states, bills relating to biodegradable plastics are the largest category of proposed and enacted state legislation affecting plastics of late, with 223 proposals introduced and 41 enacted. Twenty laws in 14 states or localities mandate degradable products such as six-pack ring connectors, bags, or diapers.

On the federal level, Ohio Sen. John Glenn proposed a bill that would encourage use of biodegradables and require council on biodegradable standards. Glenn's bill is being discouraged by the plastics industry.



Three pending state proposals could turn out to be trendsetters for the '90s, according to Joseph Pattock, SPI's director of state government affairs. In Massachusetts, a bill is under consideration for 1991 that would require all packaging to be designed to be used at least five times and be composed of at least 50% recycled material. Each of these recycled materials would have to have an annual recycling rate of 35%. "There are a lot of implications for lookalike laws if this is passed," says Pattock.

A comprehensive environmental proposal pending in California could also be a trendsetter, he says. The legislation would set strict clean water standards and ban ozone-depleting chemicals (i.e., CFC's used in the manufacture of PS and PU foam) by 1997.

A third rule that could snowball, also pending in California, would mandate that every product have a label listing ingredients used in its manufacture that have been determined to be carcinogenic. This rule is apparently a thorn in the side of the FDA because it claims exclusive rights to regulate the safety of products. "This is an issue of state vs. federal rights, and its resolution will definitely be a breakthrough in legislation," says Pattock.

Clean air is going to be a big state issue in the '90s, according to Pattock. Any chemical determined to contribute to smog is in danger of regulation. Rules such as the one recently passed in Los Angeles regulating volatile organic compound (VOC) and CFC emissions at foam processing plants are likely to catch on, says Pattock.

Another bill getting a lot of attention, according to Pattock, is pending in Massachusetts. If it passes, all products containing CFC's and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFC's), considered to be the most promising substitute for CFC's, will have to bear a warning label.


The Clean Air Act is at the top of the list for Congress this year. New Clean Air legislation has not been introduced for more than a decade because several issues were so controversial they died on the floor. Finally, a package of bills is ready to be voted on.

Margaret Rogers, director of federal affairs at SPI, outlined some of the proposed amendments that will affect plastics:

* Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee's proposed ban on CFC's by the year 2000 is supported by SPI. The amendment also calls for implementation of CFC recycling programs.

* Minnesota Sen. Dave Durenberger's proposed amendment would establish air-emissions standards, air-management requirements, and a 25% recycling target as part of a municipal solid-waste incinerator permit.

* Another proposed amendment would add several chemicals to the air toxins provision of the Act. Those affecting plastics include styrene, methylene chloride, DEHP, TDI, MDI, phenol, and vinyl chloride.

* Debate also continues on whether to regulate emissions that remain after technological controls have been installed. EPA could impose more stringent emission requirements to reduce health risks if they are determined to be significant.

SPI is said to be particularly concerned with enforcement sections of the legislation, says Rogers. The monitoring and paperwork requirements are reportedly very complicated. Continuous monitoring that would be required could cost companies $50,000-250,000 to comply, she says, and that will be an extreme burden on smaller companies.

The Clean Air Act will likely be passed by summer, says Rogers.


Congress has approved an excise tax for producers, manufacturers, and importers of ozone-depleting chemicals (i.e., CFC's), effective January 1 of this year. However, CFC's used in the manufacture of rigid foam insulation are exempted until 1991. The tax schedule is as follows:

* 1990 and 1991 - $1.37/lb

* 1992 - $1.67/lb

* 1993 and 1994 - $2.65/lb. CFC's used in insulation will be taxed 25[cents]/lb from 1991 through 1993. After 1994, the tax for all CFC's will be increased by 45[cents]/lb. As expected, HCFC's are not part of this tax.



As expected, clean-air issues will also be high on EPA's priority list. Of particular interest to plastics processors are the emissions proposals for cadmium, an ingredient in plastics pigments, and benzene, a key resin feedstock. According to its 1990 agenda, the agency is investigating the need for regulation of cadmium emissions. If EPA decides emissions standards are warranted, cadmium will be listed under the new Clean Air Act.

In February 1989, the District Court of the District of Columbia ordered EPA to decide whether to regulate benzene emissions from certain industrial sources. Final action is expected this month.

Meanwhile, another potential EPA regulation would control emissions of butadiene, ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride, and methylene chloride, among others. The rule would require installation of combustion devices to control process vents and inspection and monitoring programs to control leaks from pumps and valves.


Standards for five chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics will be under review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the coming year.

* OSHA will revise the hazard communication provisions for formaldehyde, used in the manufacture of phenolic resins. No deadline has been set for a new proposal.

* OSHA was to have filed a report on the status of its proposed regulations for exposure to cadmium by January 1990. There was still no word at press time.

* The final OSHA standard for exposure to MDA (methylenedianiline), used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam, elastomers, coatings, adhesives, and sealants, was scheduled for publication in January. In May 1989, OSHA proposed a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 10 ppm.

* By April 1990, OSHA expects to make a final rule for controlling exposure to methylene chloride, used as a blowing agent in the production of flexible urethane foam, and said to be an animal carcinogen.

* The final exposure standard for butadiene, used in the producton of styrene butadiene and ABS resins, was scheduled to be published in November 1989. No further word has come from OSHA on its progress.

The issue of respirators vs. engineering controls to meet OSHA exposure levels will be tackled by May 1990. Current rules require employers to implement engineering controls to maintain air-contaminant allowable concentrations. At present, use of respirators is permitted only in those cases where engineering controls are not feasible, not yet installed, or not adequate. This policy has been criticized by some manufacturers.
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Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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