September 30, 2021
CEO Note: California curbs plastic pollution with passage of two important bills
BY: Andy Sharpless
Two weeks ago, the California legislature passed two bills to reduce single-use plastic in the state — one that would curb restaurants’ use of single-use plastic and another that would open the door for refillable beverage bottles. Both bills now wait on the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom, who has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto them.
This is the latest victory for Oceana’s U.S. plastics campaign. We joined our allies to pass the bills by lobbying legislators, activating our California Wavemakers, and voicing our support during legislative hearings as the bills progressed through the process. We are now urging Governor Newsom to sign these two bills into law.
In a recent report, Oceana found that a 20% increase in market share of refillable beverage bottles in place of single-use throwaway plastic bottles could keep up to 13.5 billion plastic bottles out of the ocean every year. Assembly Bill 962, which was authored by Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) and passed the legislature with bipartisan support, will pave the way for refillable bottles to be sold in the state. It removes the requirement that glass single-use bottles be crushed for recycling, so they can instead be preserved, washed, and refilled. This will create jobs while also reducing waste, moving California toward refillable and reusable systems.
Plastic utensils, straws, and stirrers are consistently among the top 10 waste items picked up in beach cleanups — and they’re often not even wanted by customers ordering food for takeout or delivery. Assembly Bill 1276 expands the state’s plastic straws “upon request” law to add other single-use plastic accessories for takeout and food delivery. The bill was authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), and requires that utensils, straws, stirrers, and condiment packages only be provided upon request by customers.
Unfortunately, we also suffered a setback in the state. The e-commerce packaging bill that Oceana sponsored, Assembly Bill 1371, which would have reduced unnecessary single-use plastic packaging from online purchases in California did not pass. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D- Glendale), would have phased out plastic packaging like shipping envelopes, bubble wrap, air pillows, and foam packaging for shipments in and into California. Unfortunately, many legislators, including Assemblymembers Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego), Eduardo Garcia (D- Coachella), Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), and Mike A. Gipson (D- Carson), failed to vote for this groundbreaking bill. As a result, it did not pass out of the Assembly.
Unnecessary single-use plastic is increasingly entering our oceans as plastic production increases. Animals from an estimated 900 marine species, including many endangered species, are entangled in plastic or mistake plastic for food, leading to choking, starvation or other life-threatening effects. Last year, an Oceana study found that nearly 1,800 marine mammals and sea turtles had swallowed or became entangled in plastic in U.S. waters since 2009. And marine animals are not the only ones on a plastic diet. Microplastics have been found in our water, air, and bodies — scientists are still determining the full impact of plastics on our health.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, California is taking important steps to protect our oceans and marine life from plastic pollution. At the same time, they are helping to curb climate change. Plastic contributes to climate change at every stage of its lifecycle — so much so that if plastic were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. By stopping plastic pollution at the source, these bills are helping to solve both the plastics and climate crises.
We urge Governor Newsom to sign the bills as the Oct. 10 deadline approaches, and we applaud California lawmakers for their leadership in combatting plastic pollution. If you would like to get involved, we invite you to add your voice here urging the governor to sign these bills into law today.