California Passes Sweeping New Plastic Waste Law

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed new legislation last week aimed at reducing plastic waste in the state. The law requires all plastic packaging to be recyclable or compostable by 2032.

Additionally, $5 billion will be raised from the plastic industry over ten years to mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on the environment and human health, mainly in low income communities, according to the New York Times.

Only about five to six percent of plastic waste generated in the United States gets recycled, while 85 percent ends up in landfills, per a report generated earlier this year by the environmental groups Beyond Plastics and The Last Beach Cleanup.

Recycling plastic is more difficult than products like glass, paper or aluminum. Much of it cannot be recycled at all, and what can, gets degraded during the process. A piece of plastic can only be recycled two to three times before it can no longer be used, writes Lilly Sedaghat for National Geographic. And recycling is costly—producing a new piece of plastic is usually less expensive.

Yet plastic production is increasing. In 2018, the United States produced 35.7 million tons of plastic, up from about 25.5 in 2000.

“Remember that when you’re making plastic, there’s the greenhouse gas emissions, but these facilities also emit massive amounts of air toxins and particulates,” Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and now President of Beyond Plastics.

The law was signed ahead of a November vote on a bill that would have pushed the companies to comply two years earlier.

Instead, the new legislation was a compromise between environmentalists and the plastic industry. Matt Seaholm, Plastics Industry Association President and CEO, said in a statement he was “disappointed” by the bill.

Some environmentalists say the bill doesn’t go far enough because it relies on flawed plastic recycling policies, but many say this is still a monumental step toward reducing plastic waste.

“We did something that the world thought was impossible,” Alexis Jackson, Ocean Policy and Plastics Lead at the Nature Conservancy tells the Times. “There is no such thing as a perfect policy, but I think this bill still goes farther than any plastics policy we’ve seen.”


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