Chris Ising, Special to CalMatters

People in Paradise lost their homes and most of their town, and then came more shocking news: Paradise’s water is contaminated with benzene, which is known to cause cancer.

Intense heat from the fires created a combination of gases that were ultimately sucked into water pipes. The contamination is widespread, and experts say it will take up to two years before residents can drink, cook, brush their teeth, or bathe with the tap water in that region.

No one was prepared for the breadth or scale of the contamination.

Watching my friends who lost everything in the Paradise fire was devastating. But watching the community come together and help each other – each in their own way – was heartwarming.  My company donated 5,000 single serve bottles of water to help do our part for the victims.

The community will have no choice but to rely on bottled water as the primary source for safe drinking water for the foreseeable future, and officials and bottled water companies have been distributing supplies to residents for months.

Now there is legislation that will likely cause an increase in the cost of bottled water at precisely a time when these communities are trying to rebuild.

Assembly Bill 792 by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco would require plastic beverage containers in California to be made with at least 25% recycled content material by 2021, 50% by 2025, and 75% by 2030.

The bill’s mandates apply to those same water bottles and jugs that many people living in and returning to communities like Paradise desperately need.

Assemblyman Ting’s intentions are certainly good but he’s asking for too much, too soon. The measure wouldl force up prices on products that communities like Paradise need, literally, to survive.

The truth is there is not enough recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic material in the U.S. market, let alone in California, to meet the unreasonable materials demand the bill would require. In fact, there is barely enough recycled material available for current users and current demand.

If we exponentially increase the use of, and demand for, recycled plastic by producers and in the timeline the bill proposes, the lack of supply will drive up prices on recycled plastic – meaning prices on bottled water will also increase.

And if companies can’t get enough recycled material, they will not be able to sell their bottled water in California, which would reduce the availability of this much needed product.

Bottled water companies support mandatory recycled content requirements. Many of these companies have led the way in environmental sustainability by using packaging that is 100% recyclable; introducing thinner, lighter bottles; and voluntarily using recycled PET and HDPE plastic in our products.

However, we believe any recycled content standards and effective dates must be realistic and reasonable – and market-based. There are smarter and more effective options, and we’re committed to working with legislators to pursue them.

Above all, we must be mindful of those who need bottled water, particularly those who have no other options. Citizens living in areas like Paradise can’t afford higher costs caused by unreasonable mandates.

Chris Ising is a cattle rancher who owns of Ising Culligan Water Service in Livermore, He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

The author wrote this for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

Header Photo: Chris Ising