Fewer plastics on our shelves? Check. Less plastic pollution in our ocean? Check. Dramatic increase in recyclability? Check. These statements could all become realities soon in the Golden State, and together, we can make it happen.
Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, or SB 54, which was introduced in the California State Legislature this week, is the most comprehensive legislation to address the plastic pollution crisis we have ever seen in the United States. Passage of SB 54 could set an incredible precedent for states across the country.
The United States leads the world as the top generator of plastic waste while our plastic recycling rates remain below 10%. Ocean Conservancy’s own research shows that more than half of the most common items littering our beaches and waterways throughout the past 35 years are single-use plastic packaging and foodware. These are among the reasons that the U.S. ranks as high as third in countries contributing to the ocean plastic pollution crisis.
As monumental of a challenge as our ocean plastic pollution crisis is (and it is—11 million metric tons flowing into the ocean in a year!), we know how to solve it: stop plastics from getting there in the first place. And the most effective way to ensure that outcome is to to make less plastic and reuse more—SB 54 would do just that.
California is at a turning point. We are staring down two different paths—one where we continue business as usual, our production and dependence on single-use plastics continues to grow and our communities, ocean and climate suffer the consequences. However, SB 54 lays out another path: one where California actually reduces the amount of single-use plastics used in the first place. I worked with other Ocean Conservancy scientists to estimate the difference in plastic between these two scenarios. Using recent data from California, and estimates of the growth rate in plastic, we projected that over the next 10 years, SB 54 would result in the elimination of almost 23 million tons of plastic. That’s the equivalent of 26 Golden Gate Bridges!
So what exactly would SB 54 do?
- This bill would be the first legislation to require a reduction in single-use plastic packaging and foodware—25% less! Not only would this reduce some of the most harmful plastics, but this legislation would also support investments in developing infrastructure for reuse and refill.
- This bill would also support California’s ability to recycle and reuse: it requires that all single-use plastic packaging and foodware actually be recyclable or compostable and holds producers accountable for the cost of managing their products and requires them to pay for the much-needed improvements to California’s recycling and composting systems. By shifting the financial responsibility of waste management to the producers through extended producer responsibility, this policy will create incentives to design products more compatible with a circular economy.
- This bill would also require plastic producers to provide significant funding to support environmental mitigation and cleanup efforts in communities most impacted by plastic pollution, production and harmful waste treatment like incineration.
Bottom line: If signed into law, SB 54 will mean fewer plastics on the shelves, fewer plastics in our communities and fewer plastics in our ocean.
California is poised to further its leadership in combating plastic pollution. How can you help make sure California gets it done? Californians: take action today by telling your elected officials to vote in favor of SB 54. If you don’t live in California, spread the word to your friends and family who do! Together, we can make a difference for our ocean and our planet.