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California Legislature Passes Plastic Pollution Reduction Bills

Legislation includes prohibition on unsustainable takeout food packaging, testing for microplastics, straws upon request and funding for recycling centers.

The California Legislature doubled down on the state’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution and waste. As the legislature wrapped up the 2017-18 session on Tuesday, it sent five bills to the governor’s desk that, together, interrupt plastic’s toxic lifecycle at every stage. 

  1. AB 1884 requires restaurants to offer straws only upon request.
  2. SB 452 increases funding for recycling centers, increasing opportunities for consumers to redeem their bottles and cans.
  3. SB 1335 prohibits non-recyclable and non-compostable takeout food packaging at state facilities, including parks, beaches, colleges and fairgrounds.
  4. SB 1263 directs the Ocean Protection Council to develop a plan for stemming the growth of microplastics.
  5. SB 1422 requires all drinking water to be tested for plastic contamination.

Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, issued the following statement in response to the action of the legislature: “The California legislature is continuing to fill the vacuum of federal leadership by tackling our plastic pollution crisis and the throw-away culture that causes it. Single-use plastic products that we use for mere moments pollute our planet at every stage: beginning with air and water contamination from oil and gas extraction, continuing through the production process, and ending with disposal, where an estimated 8 million tons enter the oceans every year and millions of tons end up in landfills and incinerators.”

Adhering to the California waste hierarchy by targeting source reduction, AB 1884 would transition sit-down restaurants to a straws-upon-request policy.

"We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time-use plastic straws and their detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways and oceans," said Calderon, majority leader, in a statement. “AB 1884 will give Californians the opportunity to make a deliberate small change that would reduce our waste generation. This bill is not a ban but simply a way for consumers to change their behavior surrounding the use of plastic straws. Straws will still be available to those who need them."

“The passage of AB 1884 brings us one step closer to reducing plastic pollution from single-use plastic straws. For decades, we have thoughtlessly dumped single-use plastics into our environment, damaging the health of our oceans and harming the wildlife that depends on it. AB 1884 will not only reduce plastic pollution but is part of a growing and necessary movement to transform the way we use single-use plastics,” said Richard Bloom, co-author and assembly member, in a statement.

In a year that saw China saying “no” to imported plastic from around the globe, SB 452 protects recycling centers from closing their doors by temporarily increasing incentives to allow the marketplace to stabilize, stemming the tide of the nearly 1,000 recycling centers that have closed since peak program recycling.

“Beverage container recycling centers were hit hard a few years ago when global oil prices dropped, causing centers to close and restricting recycling access for many Californians,” said author Sen. Steven Glazer in a statement. “SB 452 puts California on a path to returning this 30-year program to its historically high recycling rates.”

SB 1335 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.

“The state can lead by example and show that we don’t have to harm our environment every time we get food in a container,” said Sen. Ben Allen in a statement. “Sustainable food packaging is available and affordable—we just need to make the conscious choice to switch to a better alternative.” 

Closing out the plastic pollution package are SB 1263 and SB 1422 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, bills addressing microplastics, in response to the growing concerns of the scientific community that has found alarming levels of plastic in our environment and the food and water we consume. SB 1263 would require the state to develop and implement a strategy to address microplastics, while SB 1422 would require drinking water in California to be tested for the presence of microplastics.

“I am glad that this important measure is heading forward. I believe that it is crucial that the public be made aware of the extent of micro plastics present in the drinking water we consume daily,” said Portantino in a statement. “Currently, the potential dangers these pose to human health and the environment are unknown. This bill is something that will hopefully change that issue. Greater knowledge of the contaminants in drinking water can lead to increased efforts at recycling, decreased use of plastics, decreased pollution and an overall healthier public and planet. This bill would add micro plastics to the list of contaminants monitored, given the high levels present and their potential effects on public health. I am hopeful this important measure will be signed into law.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign or veto these and all bills sent to him by the legislature.

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