The Year of Plastic Pollution Policy

By Californians Against Waste

In the past several years, the public perception of plastic pollution has increased dramatically, and so has the understanding of the urgency for the need to find solutions.

From straws to Styrofoam, 2018 offered the California legislature a number of opportunities to vote to reduce plastic waste. A diverse package of legislation tackling plastic pollution was introduced at the beginning of 2018, but only a select few of those bills made it through the entire legislative process and all the way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Governor Jerry Brown did in fact sign several of those bills into law and made his boldest statement to date on the public health and environmental threat posed by plastic pollution and waste. News stations around the country picked up the story of the “straws upon request” legislation becoming law in California, sparking a national conversation about the broader issue of plastic pollution. The 2018 package of plastic pollution reduction laws introduced in California included several additional key policies that tackle plastic pollution at different angles.

Phasing out non-recyclable to-go food packaging has remained a foundational goal for the environmental movement since the late 1980s, and in 2018 policy makers made a breakthrough. Senate Bill (SB) 1335, authored by Senator Ben Allen, which was signed into law, phases out takeout food packaging that is not widely recycled or composted, has toxic ingredients, makes up a significant portion of pollution in public spaces, or substantial negative impacts on wildlife from being used at state facilities, including state parks, beaches, colleges, office buildings, and fairgrounds. Arguably, the most significant component of the bill is that it redefines what is “recyclable” to mean only materials that are truly collected, sorted, processed, and recycled into new products. The policy approach used in this legislation offers a scalable solution and is a good model to use moving forward as California moves towards a comprehensive solution to phasing out unsustainable food packaging.

New research on the presence of microplastics in our diets found plastic to be present in 90% of table salt brands, and an even more disturbing study found microplastics to be present in human feces. Several pieces of legislation were introduced in 2018 in response to the growing concerns from the scientific community that continues to find alarming levels of plastic in our environment and the food and water we consume. Senator Anthony Portantino set California on track to increase our understanding of microplastic pollution and to work towards solutions. Two bills addressing microplastic pollution were signed into law this year, including SB 1263 which requires the Ocean Protection Council to develop and implement a statewide microplastics strategy which will include a research plan and recommendations for policy changes. The second bill, SB 1422, requires drinking water to be tested for the presence of microplastic pollution and for the results to be disclosed to the public. The implementation of these bills will provide the public and policy makers with the information necessary to understand the impact that microplastic pollution has on public health and the environment.

These new laws set the tone for future efforts to reduce plastic pollution and will shape the long term policy solutions to plastic waste in California and the world.

The mission of Californians Against Waste is to conserve resources, prevent pollution and protect California’s environment through the development, promotion and implementation of waste reduction and recycling policies and programs.

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