We’re Drowning in Plastic – the California Legislature Aims to Do Something About It

by on August 13, 2019 · 1 comment

in California, Environment

By Doug Porter / Words&Deeds / August 13, 2019

Three bills being considered by the California Legislature in coming weeks seek to change the economics of recycling, which–if you haven’t heard already–is in big trouble. It’s time to watch Sacramento closely, as corporate interests seek to protect their short range profits as damage to our health and the environment escalates.

The California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, a set of identical bills that started in the Senate as SB 54 (Ben Allen) and the Assembly as AB 1080 (Lorena Gonzalez)  would require manufacturers to reduce waste from packaging and certain plastic products.

AB 792 (Assm. Phil Ting) requires manufacturers use sharply escalating percentages of recycled plastic in beverage bottles over the next decade.

Earlier this month rePlanet, a major collector of beverage bottles and cans, shut its 284 collection centers in California. Lower subsidies from the state, challenges facing recyclers (third world countries no longer want our garbage), and dwindling returns from post-consumer recyclables were named as the culprits.

California has historically exported about a third of its recycling, including about two-thirds of recycling in the blue bins. China’s decision to tighten contamination standards, along with rejecting other materials triggered a cascading effect on the recycling business.

Dirty oil companies have turned to increasing products used in the manufacture of plastics as a hedge against the probability of decreasing demand from the transportation sectors of the economy. Increased production has had the effect of undermining the market for recovered plastics.

Unsurprisingly, the industry is astroturfing via a coalition called Californians for Recycling and the Environment, a faux grassroots group “concerned” about these bills. Utilizing the emotional leverage provided by threatening to take something away, it’s claiming the bills would “eliminate many products that families rely on for food, health, and well-being.”

That’s right folks, if the government insists on recycling, you’ll probably starve. Or some bullshit like that. Be very afraid. But please ignore the littered beaches, the dead fish, and the damage to your endocrine systems. Because we all know just how much the industry cared as they funded climate change denial over the past FIFTY years.

The American Chemistry Council, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, and the American Beverage Association are all lobbying for changes that would effectively neuter efforts to limit the use of plastics in packaging materials.

National Geographic’s rundown of statistics on plastics, published late last year, is a good place to start understanding the magnitude of the problem facing the world.

  • Eighteen billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions. Forty percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded.
  • Shoppers in the United States use almost one plastic bag per resident per day, as opposed to Denmark, where the average is four plastic bags annually.
  • The United States recycles just nine percent of its plastic trash. Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the world. In 2015, Americans purchased about 346 bottles per person—111 billion plastic beverage bottles in all.
  • About eight percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic and power the manufacturing of it. That figure is projected to rise to twenty percent by 2050.

The UK group, Surfers Against Sewage (they have surfers in England? Go figure.) has compiled statistics relating to plastic’s impact on ocean environments.

  • There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
  • Plastics consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied.
  • Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.
  • 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million seabirds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.

A report released in February under the auspices of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, and UPSTREAM brought together research illustrating the toxic risks plastic poses to human health at every stage of the plastic lifecycle, from extraction of fossil fuels, to consumer use, to disposal and beyond.

  • To date, research into the human health impacts of plastic have focused narrowly on specific moments in the plastic lifecycle, often on single products, processes, or exposure pathways. This approach fails to recognize that significant, complex, and intersecting human health impacts occur at every stage of the plastic lifecycle: from wellhead to refinery, from store shelves to human bodies, and from waste management to ongoing impacts as air, water, and soil pollution. 
  • Together, the lifecycle impacts of plastic paint a clear and troubling picture: plastic threatens human health on a global scale. Reducing those threats will demand stopping and reversing the growth in plastics production, use, and disposal worldwide.

CalMatters has a terrific analysis of what’s going on with these bills that I borrowed from heavily to write this post. 

Their story concludes:

  • Even if the bills die on their journey through the Capitol, it won’t necessarily be the end of plastics regulation. Proposed federal legislation may be introduced in the fall that would take aim at single-use plastics and boost recyclability of packaging and bottles. At the state level, Recology has floated the possibility of a ballot measure for the fall of 2020, should these bills fail.
  • “I think that the public has a pretty large appetite for significant restrictions on the plastics industry, and requiring them to take responsibility,” Potashner said. Californians are certainly concerned about plastic pollution: a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found 72 percent of Californians called plastics and marine debris a big problem on their nearest beaches.
  • Gonzalez said the coast belongs to all Californians, and she’s hopeful the bill will see a successful vote this year. “But minus that, it’s not something you walk away from,” she said. “At some point, we have to be honest with ourselves, and say do we care enough about our planet and our kid’s future to do something about it?”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ZZ August 13, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Time to make the single-use bottle deposit 25 cents, not 5 cents, and mandate every grocery store accept returns or else not be allowed to sell single-use bottles.

An exception for small stores is only OK if they can show there is another location in walking distance and subsidize the other location.

Like multiuse grocery bags, it just takes a few months, then it is second nature to bring a multiuse drink container around.

If you like carbonated beverages, SodaStream is only $50, doesn’t even use electricity, and is cheaper than buying soda and sparkling water in cans and bottles.


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