CA Legislature Missed Opportunity to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Zero Waste Humboldt logoThe Zero Waste movement has stirred consumers, taxpayers, ratepayers, and climate change activists to adopt less wasteful practices in their daily lives. Awareness is also increasing that we’re all paying for the wasteful packaging and single-use plastics produced by manufacturers. Bills have been introduced in the California legislature to address product stewardship, manufacturer responsibility, and recycling
market development.

This year, Zero Waste advocates urged California legislators to pass two landmark bills—SB 54 and AB 1080—together known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. This transformative legislation would have slowed the petrochemical industry’s ever-increasing production of single-use plastics. However, early Saturday, September 14, state lawmakers adjourned without acting on the two far-reaching bills.

Julie Stein, supervising attorney at UCLA’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic, said it was “a missed opportunity for California to take a leadership role in regulating plastic producers.”

The California Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act would have set a statewide goal of cutting three quarters of the waste from disposable packaging and products like straws and stirrers by January 1, 2030. That would also have been the deadline for manufacturers to start making such goods out of completely recyclable or compostable materials.

Strong industry opposition sought to water down these ambitious bills. Major opponents Nestle Waters North America and the American Beverage Association argued that the bills were too punitive. Early objections from major trade groups, including the American Chemistry Council and the American Beverage Association, later turned to neutral. Plastic company Dow, Inc. and the California Grocers Association ended up in support. The Glass Packaging Institute objected and Gary Clifford, of the waste collection and recycling company Athens Services, thought the latest version went too far in stemming the waste stream.

In California, 2020 will be an important year for everyone to become better informed and make our voices heard to support legislation that will reduce the constant production of single-use plastics.

“Californians are frustrated and concerned about the environmental, public health and financial consequences of single-use plastic waste,” said Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist at Oceana. “Inaction is not an option. We will simply have to double down our efforts in getting strong legislation passed next year.”

To learn more about how you can support Zero Waste legislation, email Maggie Gainer at