In summary

AB 1080 and SB 54 present bold and ambitious solutions that would address plastic pollution.

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By Mike Sweeney and

Mike Sweeney is executive director of the California Chapter of The Nature Conservancy,

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Margaret Spring, Special to CalMatters

Margaret Spring is chief conservation and science officer for Monterey Bay Aquarium,

California is in a state of emergency. The list of threats seems endless: unprecedented wildfires driven by climate change, economic and public health uncertainty associated with the novel coronavirus, and the stark realities of racial injustice. Add to these concerns, the long-ignored plastic pollution crisis in the waters off California and around the globe. 

Many of us, as Californians, are grappling with what kind of state and world we are leaving for future generations.

If we hope to bring about change, we must deal with multiple crises simultaneously. Our legislators can take immediate action to stem the flow of plastic into California’s oceans. Right now, they can advance effective and ambitious solutions to address plastic pollution by passing Assembly Bill 1080, introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, and Senate Bill 54, introduced by Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat from Santa Monica, together known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

There’s no time to waste.

More than 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year – pollution that persists for decades to centuries. Animals as tiny as corals and as huge as whales eat this garbage, or get tangled in it, with sometimes fatal results. Science shows these plastic pieces are working their way through the food chain, raising important questions about impacts to human health. To date, the burden of paying for clean-up efforts has largely fallen on local governments and taxpayers.

Worse yet, plastic production shows no signs of slowing. Total global use of plastic, having already increased rapidly since the 1950s, is projected to quadruple over the next 30 years. During the pandemic more families are turning to delivery services for groceries, takeout food and home goods. But our state can cut back on plastic while protecting public health – through the safe use of reusables, reduced packaging and recyclable or compostable choices. And by passing the California Circular Economy and Plastic Reduction Act.

The act would significantly reduce waste from single-use plastics and plastic packaging. Manufacturers would be required to make their packaging and certain products increasingly reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2032. Moving toward a circular economy, one that produces far less waste, could create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in California and reduce costs for already cash-strapped city and state agencies.

Despite what industry lobbyists want us to believe, California is ready to tackle plastic waste. AB 1080 and SB 54 would give companies incentives to scale back plastic production and make sure the products that remain on the market are truly recyclable. Trailblazing businesses across the state – like hotels that have switched to bulk shampoo and soap dispensers, and college campuses that have swapped disposable cafeteria foodware for reusables – expect to save money in the long term. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and clean public spaces and waters. We can have both.

But we can’t afford to delay action here in California. A recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ suggest that waiting even five years could mean an additional 80 million tons of plastic entering our oceans over the next 20 years. California is at the global epicenter of technological innovation; our public and private sectors have the talent and creativity to redesign products and pilot new models of responsible production and consumption. As the fifth largest economy in the world, we can catalyze change around the globe.

Our wildlife and our communities need bold solutions to solve the plastic pollution crisis. The Nature Conservancy and Monterey Bay Aquarium have joined with other environmental champions, leading science organizations, proactive local governments and business leaders to take a stand against plastic pollution. Supporting SB 54 and AB 1080 now can help us dramatically reduce unnecessary plastic waste and spur innovative solutions.

We’re asking state legislators and the Newsom administration to seize the opportunity and carry this historic legislation over the finish line. We must emerge from these challenging times with a clear vision of sustainability for all Californians. Our ocean – and future generations – are counting on us.

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