California’s New Policies on Plastics and Fossil Fuels

The state of California is the 7th ranked producer of crude oil among 50 states and one of the top plastics-industry employers in the U.S. As state, national, and global restrictions limit fossil fuel use for energy, industries dealing in petrochemicals are increasingly turning to making plastics to stay profitable. Yet, there is positive traction taking hold in California. With the state’s long history of progressive public health, social justice, and ecological legislation, we are seeing a clear pattern of commitment to addressing these important issues.

In just the last week, Los Angeles (LA) City Council passed three plastic-reduction ordinances supported by activist and frontline groups that ban distribution and sale of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam products, close state plastic bag ban loopholes within the city, and require city departments to implement zero-waste practices at city facilities and events. Additionally, San Diego also approved an ordinance banning EPS foam products. 

On a statewide level, the latest related legislation to pass includes:

  • SB 54: called the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, many agree that SB 54 does not go nearly far enough in regulating production and use of plastic packaging and single-use plastic foodware
  • AB 1857: eliminates an incentive for waste incineration, hopefully opening a pathway to close incinerators, and establishment of a “Zero-Waste Equity Grant Program” to support zero-waste solutions in frontline communities
  • SB 1046: bans plastic “pre-checkout” bags like those used to hold loose produce and baked goods by 2025, after which point all “pre-checkout” bags must be compostable
  • SB 1013: expands California’s existing bottle-return and recycling program to include glass and polyethylene (PET) wine and spirits containers
  • AB 2638: requires all new school construction or renovation projects submitted to the state include one or more water bottle refill stations
  • SB 1137: mandates 3,200-foot setbacks from oil and gas operations across the state from places where people live, work, attend school, and recreate
  • SB 270: bans (with exceptions) most single-use plastic grocery bags

In California there are approximately 158 plastics ordinances representing 144 cities (counting San Francisco as a county not a city) and 14 counties. The total population covered by these ordinances equals roughly 18 million people (including unincorporated county numbers), which is roughly 46% of the total population of the state of California (based on rounded 2019 population statistics).

– Craig Cadwallader, Surfrider Foundation South Bay Chapter Coordinator

While this surge of legislation shows that a growing amount of attention is being paid to the serious consequences of plastic pollution relating to injustice, public health, environmental protection, and more, challenges remain. With such legislation, especially SB 54, plastic and fossil fuel industry interests conflict with the task of creating tough, enforceable regulations that successfully address the core causes of plastic pollution: continued plastics production and fossil fuel use. And it seems loopholes are frequently left open for continued plastic use, such as with SB 270, which still allows some single-use plastic bags to be distributed. Still, California is making major progress.

For the 2021–2022 California Legislative Session, the Clean Seas Lobbying Coalition was honored to continue to be at the forefront of sponsoring and supporting a suite of bills, many now signed into law, geared towards true policy solutions for reducing plastic pollution and its detriments, from extraction to disposal. We also take pride in helping to make bills better, or opposing any false solution efforts that are anything but true waste reduction or transitioning to reuse. The last two years were a great success, and we look forward to more good work to be done in 2023 and beyond.

– Genevieve Abedon, Ecoconsult, on behalf of The Clean Seas Lobbying Coalition

Los Angeles Bans New Oil and Gas Drilling

California's New Policies

On December 2, LA City Council made a historic unanimous decision to ban all new oil and gas drilling, and to stop activities related to fossil fuel extraction at all of the city’s existing well operations within the next two decades. This change comes after years of advocacy and organizing by frontline communities, who continue to call for swift government action to address growing environmental injustice and pollution caused by the intentional placement of fossil fuel extraction sites in communities of color.

The ordinance will amend racist land-use rules that have long allowed industries and governments to concentrate fossil fuel extraction activities and infrastructure in Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x communities. It goes further than the recently signed SB 1137, a statewide ban on placement of new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of places where people live, work, and play across California. 

Frontline groups caution that the LA ordinance stops far short of fully rectifying the many forms of racism their communities experience every day. Its timeline for phasing out wells is lengthy, and it fails to set forth a clear path for plugging and remediating decommissioned wells. Still, many say the decision is a step forward in efforts to address injustice, pollution, and the climate crisis, and sets a positive example for other municipalities.

Local Change Can Help Inspire Systemic Change

California's New Policies 2
Projection in Punta del Este, Uruguay, during INC-1 Global Plastics Treaty negotiatons. © Greenpeace / Manuela Lourenço

California’s recent actions on fossil fuels and plastics is encouraging as it has helped draw national and international attention to the toxic truths about these substances and the industries that produce them. However, the persistence of plastic’s pollution and injustice shows us only systemic solutions—not piecemeal efforts—will work. 

The same day that LA passed its new fossil fuel ordinance, negotiators in Uruguay wrapped up the first round of talks to craft a global plastics treaty addressing plastics production. How that treaty is shaped will mean the difference between immensely increased suffering or vastly reduced struggle for people and nature to survive changes caused by a warming climate on an increasingly polluted planet. 

With the global treaty, as with most other pieces of plastics and fossil fuel legislation, industry and government interests are perceived as threats to the shaping of an impartial, effective agreement that does what’s necessary to end plastic pollution and implement real solutions. The plastics and fossil fuel industries and the governments that tax and subsidize them have a lot to lose in the financial sense that industry influence can be seen in some of the legislation to emerge in California, at a disadvantage to the people and ecosystems harmed by plastics and fossil fuels.

We will continue to advocate for local, national, and federal policy change in the U.S. as well as a legally binding global plastics treaty that holds polluters accountable, supports justice and equitable solutions, identifies the connection between plastics and fossil fuels, and turns off the plastic tap. California’s escalating multifaceted efforts to address the devastation caused by plastics and fossil fuels is generally positive and encouraging, and should help inspire action on a wider scale.

– Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Help End Plastic Pollution!

It’s important to continue to enact legislation in the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, and globally that recognizes the insidious interconnected nature of plastics and fossil fuels, and the negative impacts they have on communities and the environment. We also need to ensure that policies focus on implementing solutions that prioritize the health and well-being of people and the environment over industry and government profits. 

It’s up to us to continue advocating for the world we want to see. Learn more about plastic pollution and take action today!


By Jan Dell

We recently wrote to the NFL Commissioner and Team Owners with a specific concern about plastic waste and pollution and a request that the NFL be an active part in ending what has become a pollution epidemic.  Plastic pollution has significant impacts to the ocean in areas such as South Florida where the NFL will host Super Bowl LIV in 2020.  As NFL fans and members of NFL team communities who are actively involved in ocean and environmental issues, we request that the NFL end licensing of team logos on non-recyclable, non-durable expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam coolers that create waste to landfills and pollution to the ocean.

Just as the NFL has improved the technology of helmets to protect the health of players over the last decades, we request that the NFL now license only to reusable, non-polluting coolers to protect the health of the oceans, ecosystems and many species suffering from plastic pollution. The disposable design of EPS foam coolers is as outdated as leather football helmets.

The Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee recently announced the launch of the Ocean to Everglades (O2E) campaign aimed “to reduce the environmental impact around Super Bowl events and promote sustainability around the unique confluence of ocean and land-based issues found in South Florida”. Promotion of EPS foam coolers is counterproductive to the O2E initiative because EPS foam is described as the biggest plastic pollution problem by a marine biologist in Key Largo, Florida who volunteers at monthly coastline cleanups.  “We always go to the same spot and no matter what time of the year, Styrofoam coolers and just chunks of Styrofoam are always there,” she said. Marine life experts in Jupiter, Florida say ocean trash is threatening the lives of sea turtles.  In the last year alone, over 35,000 foam pieces were collected on a small 9.5 mile stretch of beach they patrol. Up north in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland, Mr. Trash Wheel collected 1,028,000 Styrofoam containers in five years. This has led the State of Maryland to pass a statewide ban on EPS foam containers.

The NFL has licensed team logos for imprinting on EPS foam coolers for decades. The coolers are sold in grocery and convenience stores across the United States (U.S.) and are designed to be disposed after only a few uses.  The light weight, non-durable nature of EPS foam leads to cooler breakage through wear and tear experienced in normal use. The old-fashioned disposable design creates non-recyclable plastic waste that must be sent to landfills and is now understood to create plastic pollution to the ocean.  Experts estimate that 300,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste from the United States (U.S.) pollute the ocean every year, which is about 65 dump trucks of plastic waste per day. Disposable EPS foam coolers contribute to this plastic pollution that is a blight in our cities and on our landscapes and harms our rivers and oceans.

Plastic waste and pollution are a burden to cities and communities to pay for waste disposal, landfill expansion and pollution cleanup. Over 200 U.S. cities and communities have banned EPS foam containers because of the costs to dispose of the plastic waste and its many harms to the environment. Sales of NFL EPS foam coolers are now illegal in New York City, Nassau County, Maine, Maryland, San Francisco, San Diego and several cities in the Los Angeles area. Use of NFL EPS foam coolers is illegal in Miami-Dade County Parks and Beaches. More U.S. cities and states are considering EPS foam container bans in 2019. Recycling of EPS foam is not a viable, realistic option in the U.S. due to the high cost of collection, cleaning and processing. As a result, only about 1% of EPS foam containers and packaging was recycled in the U.S. in 2017.

Major brand companies, including McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins and Wendy’s, have stopped distributing EPS foam consumer products to remove their valuable logos from the environmentally harmful EPS foam products.

The NFL and individual teams have made environmental and social commitments to communities to operate in sustainable, eco-friendly ways. However, licensing of the NFL team logos to a non-recyclable, non-durable EPS foam product is not consistent with the NFL and team commitments.  To its credit, the NFL also licenses team logos to several manufacturers of reusable nylon coolers and durable hard plastic ice chests.  Unlike EPS foam coolers, these reusable, durable options are inexpensive and sustainable for hundreds of uses over multiple years. With durable coolers already licensed, elimination of EPS foam coolers would not pose a hardship on the NFL or NFL fans because reusable containers are inexpensive, would provide cost savings to consumers after just a few uses and would remove NFL team logos from sources of plastic pollution. 

On behalf of our organizations, members, and supporters, we ask the NFL to only license and promote reusable, durable coolers.  By promoting reusable coolers, the NFL will: encourage sustainability in fans and communities, enhance the NFL and individual team brands by affixing logos only to non-polluting products and expand brand exposure since durable coolers are legal across the entire country and in every NFL market.

We support the Super Bowl LIV Committee’s desire to “leave a positive and sustainable legacy long after the final whistle of the Game on February 2, 2020”. The NFL can start now by promoting reusable coolers instead of disposable EPS foam coolers that too often become plastic pollution in the ocean. By ending promotion of EPS foam coolers now, there will be less EPS foam plastic pollution to be collected during the planned O2E beach cleanups during Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida.

A collaboration of Jan Dell, Independent Engineer, The Last Beach Cleanup; Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder, Plastic Pollution Coalition; Steve Blackledge, Senior Conservation Director, Environment America; and Alex Truelove, Zero Waste Director, U.S. PIRG.

By Tara Bennett-Goleman

The seagull had a piece of white Styrofoam in its beak, and I wondered how to help. If I walked toward it, the seagull would be afraid and maybe fly off. And I didn’t have food to offer instead. My heart sank.

My friend and I had come to a peninsula jutting into the middle of the Hudson river to join a river sweep. We were equipped with rubber gloves and trash bags. Most of the debris we found was plastic and Styrofoam – items that will never decompose back into nature.

Then I noticed that lone seagull walking toward me, innocently looking like he wanted to put the Styrofoam he was clutching in his beak into my bag. I assumed he would eventually swallow it, thinking it was food. To this day I wish I could have taken that bit of petrochemical debris from that friendly seagull. But I’ll never know what happened – that seagull flew off with the Styrofoam.

My failed attempt to help has been a motivator for me to do what I can to help protect nature’s creatures. That encounter was a microcosm of the ways innocent wildlife, and the entire natural world, suffers because of manmade materials like Styrofoam that interfere with the planet’s ecology.

In Martha’s Vineyard, fishermen Stan Larsen and Erik DeWitt are concerned about the plastic pollution – straws, bags, balloons — tangled in seaweed that they collect when they go out fishing.

Melissa Knowles, who teaches art to kids on the Vineyard told me when she asked her summer students what they wanted to work on, they said “plastic pollution.” So I introduced Melissa to the fishermen, so they can give the plastic they collect out at sea to the kids in her art group, to make art out of plastic – a statement in art.

A lawyer friend offered to get permission for the kids to make their art-from-plastics in the parking slots next to the Harbormaster in Menemsha. This unexpected set of coincidences testifies to the power of community and collaboration of people who join forces to help in a larger mission.

I used to assume the Vineyard was pristine, but now I know about the plastics floating offshore that harm sea life. Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s an epidemic locally and globally.

Mr. Rogers said, “As a kid when I would watch scary items in the news and get upset my mother would tell me, ‘Look for the helpers. There will always be people wanting to help.'” It’s been inspiring to see how when you look for the helpers, they are there, ready to take action.

Weather permitting, you can watch Melissa’s students at work on their art projects from 11 am on this Saturday at the Menemsha pier, right next to the Harbormaster’s shed on Martha’s Vineyard.

And you are invited to a gathering August 14, 5:30-7:30 pm, at Bad Martha’s in Edgartown, Massachusetts. Plastic Pollution Coalition CEO Dianna Cohen will speak on PPC’s Plastic Free Islands program and what might happen next here on the Vineyard.

The kids’ artwork will be displayed at the event and Melissa will give a recap of the project. The fishermen offered to talk about what they find out at sea. And we’re hoping island environmentalists will also be there and share what they have been doing – and hope to do in the future. 

Tara Bennett-Goleman is a teacher, psychotherapist, and author of ‘Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind can heal the Heart’ Learn more.

Learn more about Plastic Free Islands.

Join our global Coalition.

5 Gyres Institute, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation and #breakfreefromplastic join forces to raise awareness about Styrofoam pollution

Environmental activist groups are joining forces to fight the lack of legislation on plastic pollution during Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 16 at Venice Beach, CA, USA. The 5 Gyres Institute, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation and the #breakfreefromplastic movement will collaborate to raise awareness about the problem of beach pollution from polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam.

As part of this collaborative initiative, 5 Gyres will offer envelopes to beach clean up participants, so they can send found pieces of polystyrene trash to congressional representatives in Sacramento—where this year legislators voted against SB-705, a statewide polystyrene ban. This movement is part of 5Gyres’ #foamfree Action Campaign to empower volunteers to make their voices heard in the fight against Styrofoam pollution.

Polystyrene is the most common form of plastic found on beaches worldwide. Made from styrene—a known animal carcinogen and probable human carcinogen—it was ranked the 5th worst global industry in terms of toxic waste production by the Environmental Protection Agency. Typically, it is not recyclable.

Expanded polystyrene foam—better known as Styrofoam—fragments and is virtually impossible to clean up, yet Americans are still using 25 billion cups made from this plastic every year. We hope that when the polystyrene ban is re-introduced in the California legislature next year, lawmakers will do the right thing by passing it.

— Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Executive Director of 5 Gyres

“Expanded polystyrene foam—better known as Styrofoam—fragments and is virtually impossible to clean up, yet Americans are still using 25 billion cups made from this plastic every year,” said Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Executive Director of 5 Gyres. “We hope that when the polystyrene ban is re-introduced in the California legislature next year, lawmakers will do the right thing by passing it.”

“We know what we need to know about polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam: In the 21st century these carcinogenic, single-use plastic food-ware products should have no place anywhere near our food, let alone our environment,” said Graham Hamilton, Surfrider Malibu/West LA Chapter Coordinator. “With so many harmless alternatives available, it’s time to rid them from the consumer stream altogether.”

While the 5 Gyres Institute, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation and the #breakfreefromplastic movement applaud beach clean up efforts, this collective action is designed to highlight the lack of emphasis that events like Coastal Cleanup Day have on upstream solutions. These include legislative responsibility to pass laws that protect the environment, consumer responsibility to refuse single-use plastics such as polystyrene cups, lids, and straws, and corporate responsibility to design products with end use in mind.

“Volunteers are often given plastic water bottles by organizers when they’re at a beach cleanup,” said Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. “There’s clearly a disconnect when it comes to the source of plastic pollution.”

The Venice Beach event was organized in conjunction with a Sept. 16 clean up on Freedom Island in Manila Bay, Philippines, coordinated by #breakfreefromplastic member groups and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Register here for the Freedom Island Coastal Cleanup.

“We’ve been cleaning up brands on our beaches for 20 years,” said Abi Aguilar of Greenpeace Philippines, a #breakfreefromplastic member organization. “It’s time for corporates to take responsibility for the materials they put into the world. We must innovate delivery systems, eliminate single-use plastics, and insist that governments better regulate corporations that use plastic. This should be the last beach clean up.”

Celebrated annually for decades, Coastal Cleanup Day is the world’s largest simultaneous volunteer action to clean up the ocean: In 2016, more than 500,000 people picked up 18.3 million pounds of trash in just a few hours.

Photo via 5 Gyres. 

Join our global Coalition. 

Photo: A discarded polystyrene cup on an L.A. County beach. (Los Angeles Times)

A new bill aims to clean up the environment by banning polystyrene (Styrofoam) in the state of California. Polystyrene is an environmental pollutant and non-biodegradable substance commonly used as disposable foodservice cups, plates, and containers. Since polystyrene breaks into tiny pieces over time, it is now considered a main component of marine debris on beaches across the world. 

Take Action: Send an email to your Senator here. 

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times published earlier this week gave strong support for the bill. 

“Foam containers get battered as they move through the storm drain system, the smaller bits slipping through filters into the ocean,” writes Mariel Garza. “Unlike a littered plastic bag, which may fill with water and sink to the bottom of the sea, plastic foam is buoyant and breaks down into smaller and smaller bite-sized pieces. Also, plastic foam can absorb other chemicals present in the ocean. This poses a danger to marine life and sea birds that eat the ‘microplastic’ pieces in the water and on the shore, along with whatever pollutants they contain. It also poses a health risk to humans, as plastic has been found in the bodies of fish and shellfish caught for human consumption.”

The bill, called the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 2017 (SB 705), would ban stores and restaurants from using polystyrene containers for prepared food starting in 2020, and is based on a polystyrene take-out ban enacted by Santa Monica in 2008.

Make your voice heard by calling and emailing your Senator today!

Sample text:

“My name is _________. I live in _______ and I am a constituent of Senator Lara’s (or find your representative here.) 

I ask the Senator to support SB 705 by Senator Allen to ban foam takeout food and drink containers for the following reasons:

It is toxic to human, wildlife, and environmental health.

It is expensive and nearly impossible to clean up since it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.

It is rarely recyclable, particularly when food soiled.

It is replaceable with already existing and economically equivalent alternatives that are made right here in California.

Learn how to start a polystyrene ban in your town. 

The U.S. state Hawaii is continually ranked among the most beautiful places in the world, but locals know that their beaches and fragile ecosystems face increasing threats from plastic pollution. According to the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, plastic bags and polystyrene or “Styrofoam” are the top two contributors to the waste stream.

Now the Hawaii State Legislature is considering a bill that would ban polystyrene containers from eateries in the state. If signed into law, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

About 80 percent of food vendors in Hawaii use polystyrene for takeout, estimates Doorae Shin, Plastic Free Hawaii Program Manager for the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation. “These containers are designed to be used for a few minutes, but they will last hundreds of years in the natural environment.”

Polystyrene is lightweight and easily flies out of trash bins and landfills, where it breaks apart into little pieces and is often mistaken for food by marine animals. Polystyrene foam leaches a byproduct—styrene—into land and water, and the EPA has established styrene as a possible human carcinogen

Hawaii does incinerate a portion of plastic waste, but this approach significantly impacts the environment. Burning plastic releases potent greenhouse gasses, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, burning polystyrene emits even more carbon dioxide equivalent than other plastics. Less than 1 percent of polystyrene is recycled in the U.S. and zero percent is recycled locally in Hawaii.

“Banning polystyrene foodservice is a no-brainer because it is an unnecessary and unsustainable product,” explains Shin. “The convenience of using foam does not outweigh the many consequences. A polystyrene ban is a low-hanging fruit to begin mitigating the issue of plastic pollution in Hawaii.”

Learn how to start a polystyrene ban in your town.

Join our global Coalition.