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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Guest: California’s chance to break its single-use plastic addiction

Senate Bill 54 would dramatically decrease California’s plastic usage

A few Sundays ago, I went on a trip to the Marin Headlands with my housemates for our quarterly house trip — a day of strolling along grassy cliffs while looking out into the foggy oceanscape and getting surreptitiously sunburned.

Looking down over the railing at Point Bonita Lighthouse, one of my housemates pointed out a black tube-shaped object tumbling in and out along the shoreline with the current. We stared for a moment until somebody realized it was a black rubber rain boot. Seeing it so small and buoyant relative to the towering waves below the massive craggy cliffs felt out of place. After the boot, somebody else noticed an orange blob that turned out to be a frisbee. And then a plastic water bottle. After several minutes of this, it was all we could see. The grandeur of the landscape was overpowered by the tiny, misplaced objects floating far below us. While it may seem inconsequential that we noticed a handful of random things in the water, it served as a reminder of the magnitude of the issue — that nothing is completely protected. Even our favorite childhood beaches. Even on our beloved house trip.

A feeling of helplessness washed over me as I thought about the magnitude of the trash in our oceans. We’ve been hearing for years about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” more than twice the size of Texas. Luckily, public awareness of plastic ocean pollution is increasing. Yet it seems that every week there is a news story about the detrimental impacts of ocean plastic pollution on marine life. The laws haven’t kept up with the extent of the issue. Coastal communities in California have historically been the first to ban plastic bags, straws and other single-use plastics, and these laws have significantly helped curb the amount of trash washing up on our coasts. But we need a comprehensive, statewide action to truly reduce the amount of ocean plastic and save thousands of sea animals from entanglement or death.

Luckily I’m not the only one thinking this. Senate Bill 54 would require 75% of single-use plastics produced in the state to be recyclable or compostable by 2030. After 2030, 100% of our single-use packaging produced in the state must be recyclable or compostable. Comprehensive legislation to curb the production single-use plastics is pivotal for California to do our part in reducing the amount of plastic that entangles, chokes and kills marine life.

We’ve become societally dependent on the cheap convenience of single-use plastics at the expense of marine life and human health. Our reckless disregard for the health of the natural environment is compounding, and we are rapidly approaching the limits of damage our ecosystem can handle before hitting extinction thresholds and detrimental human health effects. It is well-known by now that plastic in the ocean never fully biodegrades; it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles called microplastics that slowly release toxic chemicals, eventually making their way into the irrigation water used on crops and thus completely infiltrating the biosphere with microplastics. These chemicals are known to cause increased risk of cancer, birth defects and developmental disorders in children.

California has a history of leading the nation with innovative, ambitious environmental policy and setting precedents previously considered unrealistic. Regulations such as the plastic bag ban (SB 270 of 2014) have been in place for years along with the recent straws-upon-request law (Assembly Bill 1884 of 2018). When these bills passed, it proved that Californians are willing and able to sacrifice the temporary convenience of single-use plastic in order to reduce the amount of plastic pollution choking marine life and tarnishing our iconic coastlines. It’s time for California to once again pave the way for holding plastic producers responsible and for all of us to end our contributions to an issue of already-disastrous scale.

Written by: Marina Franceschi

The writer is an intern with Environment California, an environmental advocacy group in Sacramento.


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