09 • 04 • 2019

California’s Comprehensive Plastics Legislation Moves Toward Final Vote

By Angela Howe

For years, plastics legislation has been focused on banning or putting a fee on a single item, like bags or foam.  While these are important steps at reducing the amount of plastic pollution that is commonly found on our beaches, California legislators sought out a more encompassing way to address the plastic pollution problem this year with a comprehensive approach to packaging and products. Senate Bill 54 and the parallel Assembly Bill 1080 are structured to cut packaging and plastic waste by 75% by 2030.  Buoyed by strong public support and a rally in Sacramento on August 21st, these ambitious bills both passed out of their last committee of appropriations last week and now have a floor vote in each house (that is, the California Assembly must approve SB 54 and the Senate must approve AB 1080) before they can go to the Governor's desk for signature. In the Legislature, the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act faces a Sept. 13 deadline before the legislative session ends in California.

Specifically, this legislation, known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, will address the plight of plastic pollution by requiring that packaging and products be reduced (that is, single-use items should be swapped out for reusable), composted or recycled. The legislation sets a goal that “by 2030, manufacturers and retailers achieve a 75% reduction of the waste generated from single-use packaging and products offered for sale or sold in the state through source reduction, recycling, or composting.” For single-use packaging and priority single-use products, the manufacturers must demonstrate a 20% recycling rate by 2024, 40% recycling rate by 2028 and not less than 75% by 2030, as a condition of sale.  The bill was recently amended to narrow the scope of the targeted products to “priority” products, which are defined as the top ten most commonly littered items (as determined by CalRecycle litter surveys from 2017-2020).  These policies help attack the plastic pollution and trash crises at both ends—both before a product is ever created or purchased, and after a single-use item is ready for disposal.  The measures help businesses transition from single-use plastic containers to reusable or compostable packaging with reasonable timelines.

Surfrider Foundation has been working with the Clean Seas Coalition and a strong group of allies in the state to advocate for this unprecedented legislation.  If you are a California resident, please take the action alert here to propel the state in a direction toward Zero Waste!