01 • 27 • 2022

Plastic Pollution Initiative: 2021 Year in Review

By Jennifer Hart

The Plastic Pollution Initiative of the Surfrider Foundation had an incredible year in 2021 as we continued the ongoing fight against plastic pollution. Our Initiative team worked in sync with our network to enact change across the country. While we are still learning to adapt to the pandemic, we are working tirelessly to create a plastic-free future for everyone to enjoy. 

The ongoing pandemic meant that Surfrider had to adapt the beach cleanup program to meet new restrictions. But in 2021, we really hit our stride. With a return to in-person activities and a hunger to reconnect with our communities and coasts, Surfrider’s network of volunteers banded together to surpass our goals. Through the Better Beach Alliance, over 15,600 volunteers participated in 1,209 cleanups and removed nearly 170,000 lbs of trash and recycling from the environment. We were also pleased to release the second annual Beach Cleanup report which provided a detailed look at Surfrider’s impacts in 2020 and how our network was able to respond to the changing environment with perseverance and innovation. 

Last year, we continued to push forward the federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act to provide a comprehensive approach to reducing plastic pollution. This monumental bill will require single-use plastic producers to finance waste and recycling programs, ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable, and spur massive investments in domestic recycling and composting infrastructure, among other ways to end the plastic pollution crisis. In 2021 Surfrider pushed for incentivizing reuse / refill models, strengthening the definition of reusable bag, addressing toxics more broadly, and closing the loophole for plastic waste exports.

While there is unfinished business on the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act to tackle this year, Surfrider had more than 40 state and local victories across the country in 2021.  With the support of our amazing chapters and team, we had enormous victories on the East and West Coasts, including with the nation’s first Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging law from the state of Maine. Several other states may follow the great example by the Pine Tree State in 2022 to address the glut of plastic packaging that clog our recycling and waste systems

Meanwhile, in Washington, a comprehensive plastics bill passed that bans expanded polystyrene (EPS), requires people to opt-in for utensils, cup lids, and condiments, and requires minimum recycled content for plastic bottles, jugs, and trash bags. This is the strongest statewide EPS ban in the United States. In California, several bills passed to address plastic pollution, including those that aimed to prevent confusion over recycling labeling and false recycling credits. In New York, large hotels are now required to use reusable and refillable containers for products like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, and in Delaware and Maine, the intentional release of balloons is now banned. Thanks to Florida's First Coast Chapter, the sale and distribution of expanded polystyrene (EPS) is now prohibited on City of Atlantic Beach property and beaches.

The Ocean Friendly Restaurants program went through a major evolution in 2021. While maintaining 750 Ocean Friendly Restaurants, the pandemic presented an opportunity to learn and grow. With a goal to create a more progressive, holistic, and dynamic program to advance the reuse movement, we revamped the criteria to reflect the changing norms of plastic and restaurants. We also made the program free to join for restaurants, with an option to donate to help support the program. By removing the financial barrier to entry, we can more seamlessly increase our network of Ocean Friendly Restaurants and create a more inclusive community of people committed to cutting out wasteful single-use plastics. The more mainstream OFR becomes, the more examples of success there are to support plastic reduction legislation.

Thank you to everyone who supported Surfrider’s Plastic Pollution Initiative in 2021. We are excited to take the momentum of 2021 into this new year and help make 2022 the most plastic-free year yet.