Efforts to reduce plastic waste across the United States have been piecemeal. Some cities and counties have banned things like plastic bags, and states like California have prohibited the use of plastic straws at sit-down restaurants.
Now, state lawmakers want to go a step further: phasing-out the sale and distribution of the most widely used, single-use plastic items.
And the lawmakers behind the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (SB 54 and AB 1080) plan to put the onus on manufacturers by having them greatly reduce production of these plastics by 2030.
“We don’t think we can just go straw-by-straw,” said bill co-author Sen. Henry Stern. “We think if we’re actually going to tackle this crisis, it's more trying to go to the people making consumer products … to give them the opportunity to innovate.”
The bill calls for manufacturers to stop making as many single-use type plastic items as possible. And whatever single-use plastic still is manufactured would need to be recyclable or compostable.
CalRecycle will then have to figure out how to enforce the proposed law, and all these actions together should reduce single-use packaging and products sold in California by 75 percent by 2030.
Proponents say California recycles less than 15 percent of single-use plastics.
“This legislation provides a comprehensive plan to transition manufacturers and consumers toward more sustainable packaging and products,” co-author Sen. Ben Allen said in a statement. “It is time for California to take this crisis seriously and set a course to address it that will be a model for other states and countries.”
Nationally, around 9 percent of plastics are recycled — and that number could decrease even more as countries like China stop taking plastic waste from the United States.
Stern says situations like this are forcing places like California to consider other options, because “no one wants to buy our junk anymore” and recycle it.
Making sure the top 10 single-use plastics products commonly picked up during beach cleanups — cigarette butts, bottle caps, straws, plastic bags, etc. — are made with only reusable, recyclable or compostable material will have a huge impact on the state’s waterways and human health, according to Ashley Blacow-Draeger with the environmental group Oceana.
“The alarming news is that [a new study] estimates an average person could be ingesting five grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent of one credit card,” Blacow said. “That’s pretty disturbing that single-use plastics have been detected in our salt, in honey, in beer.”
But not everyone agrees that banning these items is the right move. An article in the trade magazine Plastics Today notes that the Plastics Industry Association has tried to work with the authors “to try and redirect the bills toward policies that are proven to reduce litter and increase diversion rates. Unfortunately, we've been unable to have the bills amended to a point where we can support them.”
Also, in late March, the California Chamber of Commerce noted its opposition unless the bills were amended. The group says the bills “raise serious questions,” give CalRecycle unfettered authority and sketch out unrealistic timelines.