California Can Turn the Tide against Single-Use Plastic

California legislators will soon be presented with a landmark piece of legislation that aims to reduce single-use plastic packaging. But can it succeed?

After three years of negotiations between environmental groups, politicians and manufacturers, the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act (or SB54) was finally published last week.

“The imminence of a statewide ballot measure sparked a historic negotiation between the major environmental and business communities, who agreed on a producer-responsibility approach with crucial accountability guardrails,” says state senator Ben Allen, the author of SB54.

“This legislative solution is precise and predictable and avoids litigation and regulatory delays that may be caused by a poorly drafted ballot measure.”

Heidi Sanborn is the executive director of the National Stewardship Council, and also the chair of California Commission on Recycling Markets. She says that one of the major achievements of the legislation is the 25% reduction in plastic packaging by weight and unit for food and beverage containers by 2032.

She explains that the production of packaged goods must be reduced by 25%, and that the remaining packages must weigh 25% less. This is a huge deal.

She also stated that 10% of the 25% reduction in source would be achieved if single-use plastics were eliminated without having to replace them with other materials.

Reuse and refill systems must also be used to reduce single-use plastics by another 4%

“This would mark the first time that the plastic/foodware industries have agreed to reuse and replenish targets in our country’s history.”

This legislation also requires that single-use packaging and foodware be recyclable and compostable in California by 2032.

It also sets a target of 65% for recycling and gives California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery the authority to increase the source reduction mandate post-2032.

Some have criticized the legislation for not going far enough on polystyrene. However, Sanborn claims it requires a 20% recycling standard for expanded polystyrene polystyrene by 2020. This effectively amounts to a “de facto ban”.

The legislation’s most important component will require plastic packaging manufacturers to pay $500 million per year for 10 years to finance environmental mitigation programs. 60% of the money will be used to help rural communities, low-income, and disadvantaged people. California’s plastic pollution has caused damage totaling $5 billion.

Forbes is told by her that this “sets us on the path to a true circular economy.” We are addressing all three aspects of a circular economy, as defined by Ellen McArthur Foundation: reduce waste and pollution; keep materials in motion (recycle/compost); and regenerate natural ecosystems.

Just weeks after the U.S. announced SB54, The Interior Department has announced that it will eliminate single-use plastic products from national parks and other public lands by 2032.

Ocean Conservancy scientists claim that SB54 will directly reduce nearly 23 million tonnes of single-use plastic packaging over the next ten years. This is nearly 26 times as much weight as the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Without doubt, this bill, if it passed, would be one of the strongest plastics legislations we have ever seen here at the United States,” Dr. Anja Brandon, U.S. Plastics Policy Analyst at Ocean Conservancy, and principal contributor to the bill’s text, said.

It is also just weeks before the deadline for withdrawing a ballot measure, California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative. This initiative also addresses plastic pollution and reduction.

“Our priority is less plastics on shelves and more plastic in our ocean,” Jeff Watters, Ocean Conservancy vice president of external affairs, said.

“If the legislature does not act on this historic opportunity with SB54 we will do everything possible to pass the ballot measure. California is leading on this issue in the coming year.

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