Looking back on 2023 – Highlights from the past year

Beyond plastic

Andy Smith | TPIN

As we wrap up 2023, here our highlights from another year of working to protect the public interest.

Right to Repair

Californians throw away an estimated 46,000 cell phones every day. The e-waste from our electronics and appliances overflows our landfills and can leach toxic chemicals into our environment. That’s why we campaigned to give Californians what they need to more easily fix their electronics and keep them working longer, rather than throwing them away. And we won! The Right to Repair Act will give Californians the parts, tools, and service information to fix our phones, computers, refrigerators and more, saving consumers money and reducing waste in our environment. In the end, not only did Apple, who had been our biggest opponent for years, come on board and support the Right to Repair Act, they also agreed to comply nationwide.

CALPIRG | TPIN
CALPIRG volunteers with hundreds of pounds of e-waste, calling for the Right to Repair

A healthier, cleaner ride to school

Riding to school shouldn’t come with a daily dose of toxic pollution, but unfortunately most of the school buses Californian children ride on today run on diesel, and the tailpipe exhaust from these vehicles has been linked to serious health risks, including respiratory illness and cancer.  The good news is that this year, we helped pass a new state law that requires California schools to transition to 100% electric school buses. Electric school buses will help our kids’ health, reduce climate emissions, and save schools money.

Ricky Mackie | TPIN
CALPIRG staff and partners with Assemblymember Phil Ting in support of electric school buses.

Calling on Amazon to reduce plastic 

 Almost every online order comes with a pile of plastic packaging, which ends up littering our communities and polluting the ocean. That’s why CALPIRG has been calling on Amazon to eliminate single-use plastic packaging.  This year we delivered 138,000 petition signatures from CALPIRG members and our partner groups to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, and we got media attention around a research project to show very little Amazon plastic actually gets recycled.

And the company is starting to listen.  In July, Amazon announced it is “phasing out padded bags containing plastics in favor of recyclable alternatives.” This means the eventual end of the blue and white plastic mailing envelopes in which many Americans get Amazon orders. In October, they opened their first fulfillment center that doesn’t use any plastic packaging. These are great steps, though what we really need is for the company to eliminate all single-use plastic in its shipments and to set a clear timeline for doing so.

PIRG, Environment America, and Oceana delivered petition signatures to Amazon asking the e-commerce company to reduce plastic packaging
Ricky Osborne | Used by permission
CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engstrom with staff and volunteers delivering petition signatures at Amazon headquarters in Seattle

Banning bee-killing pesticides

We depend on bees to pollinate one-third of our food. They’re essential, and yet we’re poisoning them. To help save the bees, this year we helped pass a new state law that prohibits bee-killing pesticides called neonics from being used in lawns, gardens, and golf courses. CALPIRG and our partners have been working towards this action for years and are proud to see California finally join six other states that are taking action to save the bees.

Staff | TPIN
CALPIRG Students at UC Riverside campaign to save the bees

Longer lasting laptops

In September, the CALPIRG Education Fund and our national partners at US PIRG Education Fund succeeded in getting Google to agree to extend the life of all Chromebooks to ten years, which is a win for schools and the environment. Our report Chromebook Churn found that schools often had to get rid of Chromebooks that worked because Google no longer offered tech support or software updates after a certain “death date.” That means schools would have to spend more money purchasing new laptops, and the discarded ones would end up in landfills and could leach toxic chemicals into our environment. We highlighted that it doesn’t need to be this way, garnering attention in the Wall Street Journal, East Bay Times, OC Register and others. Google listened, extending the lifespan of Chromebooks produced after 2021 to ten years, ensuring they can last longer.

Leise Jones | TPIN
PIRG Designed to Last Director Lucas Gutterman calls on Google to extend the life of Chromebooks.

Protecting consumers

When predatory practices and hidden dangers threaten our safety and financial security, CALPIRG stands up for consumers. This year included many successes for consumers, including new state laws that protect Californians from surprise ambulance bills, ban toxic food chemicals, and prohibit “junk fees” so you know the full cost of things upfront.

This year, our sister 501(c)(3) organization, CALPIRG Education Fund, brought attention to the potential dangers of smart toys, problems with our recall system, and the health concerns associated with cooking with gas stoves.

ABC 7 | Public Domain
Our State Director Jenn Engstrom spoke to ABC 7 news about our 38th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

As you can see, it’s been a year with a lot of highlights that we’re very proud of at CALPIRG.  With you by our side, I’m confident we can continue to build a healthier, safer future for Californians.

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Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.

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