09 • 19 • 2019

Surfrider Local Action Motivates State Legislative Change

By Angela Howe

Surfrider Foundation's powerful grassroots efforts were resoundingly heard at the statewide level this year for plastic pollution. Although the California comprehensive plastic reduction legislation (SB 54/AB 1080) failed to pass the legislature last week and was turned into a two-year bill, the 2019 legislative year thus far has yielded a remarkable amount of statewide plastic bills.  In fact, 8 statewide plastic bans were passed this year, including the nation’s first statewide foam ban in Maine! This is phenomenal progress because, prior to 2019, only one statewide plastic bag ban was passed in California in 2014 (and ratified by voter initiative in 2016).  Additionally, an estimated 400 bills aimed at plastic pollution reduction were at play in state legislatures this year, many of these which were not full product bans, also passed.

Why was there such a flurry of statewide activity and success in 2019?  Across the United States, state legislators have been taking increasing note of the plastic pollution crisis and the projection for how much plastic will be in our ocean by 2050 (more than fish!) if we continue down the same path.  Major features on 60 Minutes, in National Geographic and several other major publications have highlighted the problem more than ever before. And other countries, such as China, have erected a “green sword” refusing to take U.S. recycling and trash exports anymore. Additionally, state legislators have taken note of the success of plastic pollution reduction ordinances at the local level.  And the success of the California bag ban that has resulted in 86% of all customers bringing their own bags to use at the store.

Surfrider Foundation’s grassroots network has been working to create change at the local level on plastic pollution ordinances since 2007, and our amazing network has directly helped pass 134 single-use foam foodware and single-use bag bans – and now 9 statewide laws as well!  Check out the progression in here:

In 2019, both Maryland and Maine have banned expanded polystyrene foam foodware, and Oregon and Maine passed major single-use bag bans initiated by our chapter network! Connecticut also passed a bag ban with the help of our chapter there, and a comprehensive plastics reduction law passed in Vermont that bans plastic grocery bags, bans foam and requires that vendors provide straws upon request only. New York and Delaware passed state plastic bag bans, too.

We know, now more than ever, that strong state, national and global policies can be initiated and take shape at the local level. If you'd like to plug in with the grassroots movement to address plastic pollution, you can join a Surfrider chapter or club today!