Our plans for moving beyond plastic in 2023
This year we can reduce plastic waste by winning more bans on single-use plastics and convincing companies such as Amazon and Whole Foods to cut plastic packaging.
One in 3. That’s the portion of Americans currently living in a state with a robust ban on at least one type of single-use plastic.
Less than a decade ago, no statewide plastic bans existed anywhere in the country. But even then, PIRG, Environment America and our supporters and allies were building toward a critical mass of momentum that would eventually allow us to start turning the tide on plastic, one state at a time.
Now, in 2023, it’s crucial that we keep pressing forward. There are a handful of states where we have a real chance of winning significant action on plastic in the months ahead. There are a half-dozen industry-leading corporations that could spark a major shift away from wasteful single-use plastic packaging if they heed the calls made by tens of thousands of citizen advocates. And there’s an innovative policy called “producer responsibility” that’s rapidly taking hold across the country and helping communities put the burden of plastic waste management back onto the companies that produce the plastic in the first place.
And there’s no time to waste — that much is clear from one look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or one reminder that each of us ingests a credit card’s worth of plastic particles every week, or any one of the frequent new discoveries about the harm plastic does to our wildlife, our climate and our communities.
While Canada, Europe and others have taken action to reduce plastic pollution at the national and even international scale, the prospects for a nationwide plastic reduction law here in the United States are slim. But we’ve seen time and again that focusing on state legislation and changes in corporate policies can be just as effective for winning progress on pressing public interest issues. With that in mind, here’s a look at our plans for moving more of our country beyond plastic in 2023:
In the states
Following a years-long campaign by CALPIRG, Environment California, our coalition partners and student activists on campuses across the state, California officially banned single-use plastic grocery bags in 2014. Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, New York and others followed suit a few years later. 2019 saw Maine and Maryland pass nation-leading bans on single-use items made from polystyrene foam, which were soon replicated in Virginia, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere.
We’ve set a goal of winning statewide plastic bans in five more states in 2023. And with so much momentum in our favor, we’re excited to see which states will take up the mantle next …
- Massachusetts and Pennsylvania each boast dozens of cities and towns that have instituted single-use plastic bans, yet statewide action has remained elusive. This year presents opportunities in both states to finally break through. In addition, MASSPIRG is working to pass a much-needed update to the state’s Bottle Bill, which by the numbers continues to be one of the most effective recycling programs around, but could be working even better by being expanded to cover the many types of beverage containers that didn’t exist when the original law was passed in 1982.
- Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and Wisconsin have opportunities this year to pass statewide bans on polystyrene foam products and packaging (to-go cups for hot beverages, clamshell containers for takeout food, packing peanuts in delivery boxes, etc). This stuff sticks around for centuries in landfills and the environment — and with so many more sustainable alternatives out there, we should no longer have to allow the momentary convenience of plastic foam to turn into pollution that lasts generations.
- Oregon and Virginia already have sweeping plastics bans on the books. But there’s always more we can do, which is why our staff and supporters are setting their sights on bringing a statewide foam ban to Oregon, and a statewide bag ban to Virginia.
Some quick back-of-the-envelope math tells us that, if we achieve our goal of getting five more states to pass a single-use plastic ban in 2023, the portion of Americans living in a state taking action to move beyond plastic would surge to nearly half. The zero waste movement is becoming so strong that it’s no longer a question of if the majority of the country will move to cut out the single-use plastics we just don’t need, but when.
Our corporate campaigns
Consider: Plastic packaging is the single largest contributor to plastic waste worldwide.
Consider, too, that grocery giant Whole Foods brands itself as sustainable and environmentally friendly, good for people and the planet — yet its shelves are filled with so much wasteful, unnecessary single-use plastic packaging that the advocacy group As You Sow gave the company an “F” in a survey of corporate plastic policies. Whole Foods needs to step up and do its part in the fight against plastic pollution.
Of course, it takes more than just a good argument to convince a multi-billion dollar corporation to change how it operates. It takes broad, sustained grassroots action — which is exactly what PIRG and Environment America have built together over the past three years, getting more than 50,000 people across the country to sign onto our call for Whole Foods to cut out single-use plastic packaging.
We’ve raised similar calls for Amazon, Costco, General Mills and Sysco (the world’s largest food distributor) to move beyond plastic packaging. And at the rate this advocacy is growing, with more Americans joining the movement every day, we’re hoping 2023 will be the year that it becomes too loud for these companies to ignore any longer.
The impact these major industry players could have is enormous. Corporate action to reduce plastic use would make a significant dent right away in the amount of plastic pollution flooding into our communities and environment — Amazon, for instance, used more than 200 million pounds of single-use plastic packaging for its deliveries in 2021 alone. But perhaps even more importantly, other companies would likely (and quickly) start to follow suit. The writing would be on the wall: Customers don’t want to bring home a pile of unnecessary plastic with every purchase they make, and if there’s an opportunity to make a plastic-free shopping trip, you can bet many of them will take it.
The common thread connecting all of these critical efforts? People power. The action and support of citizen advocates like you is what makes progress possible. We hope you’ll join us this year as we continue working to ensure that nothing we use for a few minutes is allowed to pollute our communities and threaten our environment for centuries.
Tell Whole Foods to take the lead on reducing plastic waste
Whole Foods claims that its mission is to "nourish people and the planet," so why is there so much wasteful plastic packaging on its shelves?
Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG
Matt oversees PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns and leads PIRG’s climate program to promote a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. Matt lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, two daughters and chihuahua.
Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America
Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.
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.