This Spring Break, we canvassed to move California beyond plastic.

It was the start of Spring Break for students in the UC system. It’s a precious, almost sacred time for students, a time to rest from the rigors of academia by traveling to Cabo or snuggling up for a week-long Netflix binging session. But instead of hitting the beaches or the couch, a few students joined me and some other CALPIRG organizers in LA.

They did this because this spring break had additional significance – a bill to reduce plastic pollution from online retailers had to make it through its first committee, and we had the opportunity to help it!

How? By launching our Spring Break canvass.

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The Problem: Mountains of plastic packaging at our doors

Many of us are aware of the abundance of plastic waste littering our streets and polluting our oceans. A large (and growing) part of this plastic pollution predicament is a result of packaging from online retailers. Almost every time we order an online purchase, consumers are confronted with plastic envelopes, foam peanuts, bubble wrap, and a variety of other non-recyclable packaging. In 2020 alone, online retailers produced 600 million pounds of plastic waste.

A thirty-second online checkout shouldn’t also come with a surprise pile of plastic waste that can pollute our oceans for hundreds of years.

That’s why CALPIRG is supporting Assemblywoman Laura Friedman’s bill to eliminate the non-recyclable packaging that online retailers send to our homes!

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The Solution: Canvassing to build grassroots support

Walking into the canvass office for the first day of Spring Break, we all knew that getting this bill passed through the legislature wouldn’t be easy. The plastics industry is powerful, and they spend millions of dollars to prevent these types of policies from being passed. 

But that’s why canvassing is so important. By going door-to-door in our communities, we not only educate the public about the problem, but we can gather petition signatures and fundraise for the campaign, helping us build grassroots power to move towards a solution. Organizing members of the public in huge numbers is the most effective way to counter money from the plastics industry. 

Throughout the week, I spoke with dozens of people in the LA-metro area who were sick and tired of the plastic left at their doorsteps. Several people showed me examples of gratuitous plastic waste from a recent online order right on their doorstep. These interactions are yet another valuable part of canvassing: By referencing these real-life conversations in my meetings with legislators, my advocacy on behalf of CALPIRG becomes even more credible and effective.

In the end, the college students saw their hard work pay off: We were also able to see the bill make its way through its first committee, an encouraging sign of progress.

But the fight to reduce plastic pollution in online retail is far from over. We’ll continue to advocate, fundraise, educate and of course canvass to pass this bill and to keep our communities clean and healthy. If we continue to organize and build support, we can win.

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Sander Kushen

Public Health Advocate, CALPIRG

Sander is based in Sacramento and works with California decision-makers, the media and coalition partners to further CALPIRG’s legislative priorities. In his free time, Sander enjoys karaoke, science fiction novels and hugging his cat, Arthur.

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