We’re halfway there: A legislative progress report on plastic waste, air quality, toxics and more

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Over the past few months, CALPIRG has been campaigning for state reforms that will reduce plastic waste, protect consumers, limit toxic chemicals, improve air quality, and more. I’m happy to report back that several CALPIRG-backed bills passed a major legislative hurdle last month, moving out of their house of origin and to the second house for further deliberation.

Getting beyond this half-way point in the legislative session takes a combination of grassroots organizing and strategic advocacy in the Capitol, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of our members and supporters.   

I wanted to share an update on CALPIRG-backed bills that passed the State Assembly or Senate last month.

Banning Plastic Bags 

We’ve known for a long time that plastic bags are wasteful – we don’t need them and they create plastic pollution in our communities and environment. That’s why California passed a law in 2014 to ban plastic bags, and defended that ban on the ballot in 2016. However, our bag ban is no longer working as intended. Especially in the last few years, the plastics industry has produced slightly thicker plastic bags that they claim are “reusable” and therefore exempt from the law. The reality is few people actually reuse these bags, and plastic bag waste by weight has grown to an all-time high

SB 1053 (Blakespear) and AB 2236 (Bauer-Kahan), which each passed their original house last month, will strengthen our statewide plastic bag ban, banning those thicker plastic bags in grocery stores. 

Consumer education on gas stove pollution  

Gas stoves create pollution inside our homes – emitting harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and benzene. These dangerous pollutants increase the risk of childhood asthma and other respiratory problems, but this risk has largely been hidden from the public.  AB 2513 (Pellerin) will require gas stoves sold in California to come with a warning label to inform consumers about the pollutants emitted from stoves, their health risks, and the important recommendation to properly ventilate when cooking.  In doing so, this legislation gives consumers information needed to make important decisions for their families. 

Prohibiting medical debt on credit cards 

More than 1 in 5 Californians report that they have medical debt they are paying off to providers. This financial burden alone can wreak havoc on many families, but on top of that it can create additional harms when the medical debt impacts their credit score. Medical debt on credit reports can make it less likely for affected individuals to get loans, buy a home, or in some cases, to even get a job.  That’s all while we’ve known for years that medical debt doesn’t accurately predict a person’s desire and willingness to pay off loans.  SB 1061 (Limon) will simply prohibit medical debt on credit reports, creating a fair credit system that doesn’t penalize people for life events they can’t control like getting sick.

Zero Out Toxics

We’re happy to report that several bills passed their house of origin that would limit the use of toxic chemicals that threaten our health and our communities.

  • AB 2761 (Hart, Lowenthal) bans the “worst of the worst” toxic plastic materials, PFAS “forever chemicals” in plastic and PVC packaging.  PVC materials are made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen and one of the toxic chemicals at the center of the tragic toxic train crash in East Palestine, Ohio that released 1 million pounds of chemicals into the surrounding air and water, causing serious health and environmental impacts on the surrounding community. 
  • AB 2300 (Wilson) bans the toxic chemical phthalate from medical devices like IV bags and tubing. Phthalate is a plasticizer known to cause cancer and birth defects, and yet it is being used in a medical setting where it can leach out of the IV bags and tubing and into the medication and other fluids being infused into the bloodstream of patients. Californians shouldn’t have to wonder and worry if the medical device intended to treat their illness is instead making them sicker or contributing to an even worse health concern.
  • Our schools shouldn’t be filled with chemicals that put our health at risk, especially when those risks include cancer and developmental disorders. That’s why CALPIRG supports AB 1864 (Connolly), which strengthens existing protections for children from exposure to pesticides at school.  The bill restricts pesticide use during school hours and expands current reporting requirements to ensure kids are kept safe from prolonged exposure to dangerous pesticides. 

Cleaner air and water

AB 1866 (Hart) substantially increases oil companies’ requirements to plug and clean up idled oil and gas wells across the state.  Idle oil wells in California act as a major source of methane gas emissions, groundwater contamination and air pollution.  If AB 1866 becomes law, oil companies will be required to clean them up, reducing taxpayer burden and providing cleaner air for Californians. 


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.