Bills to Move California Beyond Plastic Advance in Legislature

This week both the state Senate and Assembly passed CALPIRG-backed bills to ensure much more of the single use plastic and packaging we use is actually recycled.

California just took a giant step forward to move our state Beyond Plastic. Earlier this week both the state Senate and Assembly passed CALPIRG-backed bills to ensure much more of the single use plastic and packaging we use is actually recycled.

AB 1080 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez and SB 54 by Senator Ben Allen would establish state targets to reduce single-use plastic and packaging waste by 75 percent by 2030. CalRecycle would be given the authority to implement regulations on manufacturers to ensure we stay on track to meet those targets, either through reduced use, or increased recycling and composting.

Last fall CALPIRG Education Fund released “The State of Waste in California,” which found that the average Californian throws away 6 pounds of trash every day, equivalent to almost 2200 pounds every year, roughly the weight of a subcompact car. To make matters worse, we’re trending in the wrong direction. Our researchers found that since 2012, disposal per resident has increased from 5.3 to 6 pounds while the recycling rate has decreased from 50 percent to the current 44 percent. Although California’s recycling rate remains above the national average 34.7 percent, results are well below the state’s 2020 goal of 75 percent. And every single major city in California has failed to improve their reduction of waste since 2012.

We’re particularly concerned about the rise in plastic and packaging waste. 91% of plastic worldwide isn’t recycled. And earlier this week, Malaysia announced that it will be the latest South Asian country to stop accepting imported plastic scrap, and will send some 3,000 metric tons of plastic scrap back to where it came from, including the United States.

The good news is that after the implementation of the statewide single-use plastic bag ban, and Asm. Ian Calderon’s “straws on request bill” last year, there’s growing political support in favor of more comprehensive approaches to tackling plastic waste, including more requirements on manufacturers to stop producing more of this stuff in the first place, and when they do, to be responsible for actually recycling and reusing the material. 

That’s why dozens of environmental, health and business organizations, including all of these listed, are supporting AB 1080 and SB 54: 



Throughout the spring, CALPIRG student volunteers have been holding educational events on and near campus, and then engaging their peers in actions to support the legislature. A crew of nearly 100 students came up to Sacramento to lobby on SB 54 and AB 1080 in March. Here’s just a few of the photos that CALPIRG students have sent my way! 






The plastics industry and manufacturers have opposed efforts by the legislature to crack down on single-use plastics. Industry opponents paid signature gatherers to put Prop 67 on the ballot in 2016 in an attempt to roll back Californian’s ban on single-use plastic bags, and industry opposition successfully killed SB 705 in the last legislative session, which would have banned the use of polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, for food containers. But we are hopeful that with this week’s votes, it’s only a matter of time before SB 54 and/or AB 1080 are signed into law, and the real work can begin to get California’s plastic recycling rates up to 75 percent, as quickly as possible. 


Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network

Emily is the senior director for state organizations for The Public Interest Network. She works nationwide with the state group directors for PIRG and Environment America to help them build stronger organizations and achieve greater success. Emily was the executive director for CALPIRG from 2009-2021, overseeing a myriad of CALPIRG campaigns to protect public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, and promote a robust democracy. Emily works in our Oakland, California, office, and loves camping, hiking, gardening and cooking with her family.

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