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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Emily Parker

Emily Parker, Coastal and Marine Scientist at Heal the Bay dives into how to fight Big Plastic from your living room during the COVID-19 pandemic while staying safe, protecting your community, and supporting struggling local businesses.

Update: California Governor Gavin Newsom temporarily suspends the statewide plastic bag ban on April 23, 2020 in response to inaccurate claims from the oil and plastics industries that disposable plastics are safer than reusable items, an untruth that creates unnecessary panic. We are alarmed that some of our elected leaders are listening to the oil and plastics industries at a time when our resources should be supporting our strained health care system, protecting essential employees, and providing assistance to vulnerable communities. We encourage Californians to bring reusable bags if your local store allows it and opt to bag yourself! If the store is not allowing reusable bags, refuse the plastic bags at checkout, bring your items outside in the cart, and bag there with your reusable bags.  Read our full statement.

It’s a Friday evening. Everyone across the city, the nation, the globe, is sheltering in place. Local businesses are suffering and I want to do the right thing and support them (plus, I’m hungry). So I order some noodles. They arrive at my doorstep, and they hit the spot, but the problem? They are packaged in a single-use plastic container. This is my dilemma, and I am not alone.

Plastic pollution advocates are all experiencing this same predicament: how do I stay safe, protect my community, and support struggling local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while still fighting Big Plastic (i.e. the plastics industry behemoth that includes plastic manufacturers, fossil fuel companies, and food conglomerates that all support the harmful production and disposal of single-use plastic products)?

Over the course of the past month, all of our lives in the US have changed drastically. Those who are fortunate enough to have a place to live are isolated in their homes, distanced from loved ones. More and more people fall ill every day, vulnerable communities are suffering disproportionately, and our governments and healthcare systems are pushed to the brink. Yet, all the while, Big Plastic does not sleep.

Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists from plastic corporations and fossil fuel companies are using the COVID-19 crisis as a front to push their agenda: make and sell more plastic. The result? Cities and states like San Francisco and New Hampshire have reversed their bans on plastic bags and the safety of reusable items has come into question causing delays for plastic bag bans in New York and Maine. All of this because an industrial conglomerate wants you to believe single-use plastic is less likely to make you sick (a claim with no un-biased evidence to back it up). So, what can we do about it?

Here are a few ways you can fight Big Plastic while sheltering in place:

1. Continue to support your local restaurants and prioritize those that choose sustainable alternatives for their take-out and delivery

Our friends at Surfrider Foundation have just the tool for you to keep ordering take-out and avoid the dirtiest plastics: Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR). This program works to stop plastic pollution at the source, and offers restaurants an easy way to show their commitment to making sustainable choices for our ocean. All OFR certified establishments make a commitment to reduce plastic waste through targets such as eliminating polystyrene (the worst plastic litter offender), only offering utensils and non-plastic straws on request, and not offering plastic bags. Use this handy map to find an Ocean Friendly Restaurant near you!

Don’t see your favorite spot? Call them up and politely ask if you can order your food with as little plastic packaging as possible. Keeping local businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic while reducing plastic waste IS possible!

2. Take extra care to avoid single-use plastics when buying your essentials and support refill systems when possible

With bulk bins taped over and reusable bags being turned away, even a simple trip to the market for essentials can seem overwhelming if you are avoiding single-use plastic. However, a little extra preparation and research can go a long way.

Bring along reusable produce bags and pack up your own produce to avoid the plastic packaged stuff. Look for pantry items packed in cardboard, tin and aluminum to avoid disposable plastic bags. Already an avid refill customer? Check with your local refill store and see if they have curbside pick-up or delivery options for cleaning, household, and personal care products while we shelter in place.

Finally, go easy on yourself. Now is the time to show compassion and, if you buy more single-use plastic than you would like, don’t despair. We are all doing our best and limited options may force our hand. Do try to clean and repurpose any plastic you may get as best as you can; Pinterest and YouTube have great tutorials on how to reuse single-use plastic items.

3. Use your voice and your vote to stand up to Big Plastic 

Stand with Heal the Bay and the Reusable LA Coalition as we take an active stance against Big Plastic’s fear mongering techniques to increase the production and sale of plastic during the COVID-19 pandemic. By supporting legislation such as the STOP Act of 2020, (a bill that would prohibit the Federal Administration from slashing royalty rates and giving away billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies) and continuing to push for local legislation that equitably reduces plastic use in Los Angeles County, Heal the Bay and our partners are working to ensure that Big Plastic and the fossil fuel industry do not benefit from a global crisis.

Every day, in the background of the growing pandemic, more fossil fuels are extracted and refined to produce disposable plastic products. This process directly impacts fenceline communities who live next to these operations and are exposed to higher levels of pollution; those same communities are also being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus. Those plastics then must be disposed of and with a broken recycling system, and more and more recycling programs being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are ending up in landfills and the environment.

Your voice MATTERS. Stand with us and tell Big Plastic they won’t get away with payoffs and rollbacks while our vulnerable communities continue to be impacted by plastic production. You can support these efforts by signing up as a Reusable LA supporter, making a financial contribution to Heal the Bay, or by signing our plastic petition. Follow Heal the Bay on social media or sign up for volunteer action alerts to stay in the know on our fight against Big Plastic and how you can take action from anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Use #fightplasticfromhome and let us know how you are continuing to fight Big Plastic and reduce your plastic consumption while sheltering in place. Together, we can reduce plastic pollution and keep our communities safe through this crisis and beyond.



2019 has been a thrilling legislative season in California. From plastics bills that steadily move us toward a culture of reusability in the state, to improved coastal access for all Californians, our state government has made some major headway in passing environmental bills. Heal the Bay has been closely tracking and advocating for the most important environmental bills of 2019, and we are very excited by some of the progress that has been made this year.

Let’s take a look at the winners (and losers) of 2019.

Of the thousands of bills introduced earlier this year, 1,042 in total made their way to the governor’s desk and 870 of them were signed by Governor Newsom, making them law. This includes some major environmental bills, such as Assembly Bill 619, also dubbed the BYO bill. This bill, introduced by Assemblymember Chiu, clarifies language in the public health code regarding reusable containers, making it easier for consumers to bring their own container to their favorite watering holes and lunch spots. This bill also allows temporary food facilities, like those at fairs and festivals, to use reusable service ware instead of single-use disposables (which were required before this bill was passed). The bill will greatly reduce waste at temporary events and you can now easily fill up that reusable tumbler just about anywhere you go, even food trucks and stands!

Governor Newsom also signed Assembly Bill 1680 (Assemblymember Limón) into law, which will develop a coastal access program for the beaches at Hollister Ranch, an area with 8.5 miles of coastline and no current access to the beaches for the public. This landmark bill will allow any member of the public access to these special Santa Barbara beaches, and is a big win for coastal access for all Californians.

While smoking on the beaches of LA County may have been banned years ago, this was not the case for the rest of California. However, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 8 (Senator Glazer) into law, which makes it illegal to smoke on any state beach or state park across all of California. As the number one littered item, cigarette butts cause great harm to the environment. Made of plastics and filled with hundreds of chemicals, cigarette butts are notorious polluters of beaches, parks and waterways. This bill will help to reduce this pervasive litter item, and protect the health of beachgoers and park visitors.

More environmental bills that were passed this year include:

  • AB 65 – Coastal Protection and Climate Adaption (natural infrastructure)
  • AB 209 – Outdoor Equity Grants Program
  • AB 762 – Shellfish Health Advisory
  • AB 834 – Harmful Algal Bloom Program
  • AB 912 – Marine Invasive Species Management
  • AB 948 – Coyote Valley Conservation Program
  • AB 936 –Oil Spill Response – Non-floating oil
  • AB 1162 – Ban on Hotel Small Plastic Bottles of Personal Care Products
  • AB 1583 – The California Recycling Market Development Act
  • SB 367 – Technical Assistance for State Coastal Conservancy Educational Projects and Programs
  • SB 576 – The Climate Ready Program

While the passage of these bills is a major success, not every environmental bill was signed into law.

Governor Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 792 (Assemblymember Ting), a minimum recycled content bill that would have increased the minimum amount of recycled plastic used to produce plastic beverage bottles. Though the Governor supports this type of standard, the bill was deemed costly and burdensome for the state, and was therefore not signed into law. Heal the Bay advocates and our partners hope to solve the issues with this bill brought on by last minute amendments and bring back a better version next year.

Also vetoed by the governor was Senate Bill 1 (Senator Atkins), a bill that would have enacted the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019. This act would have ensured protections afforded under federal labor and environmental laws and regulations as of January 2017 (such as the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act) would remain in place in the state of California in the event of future federal regulation changes. It essentially would have acted as a public health and environmental insurance bill to prevent rollbacks at the federal level. Governor Newsom vetoed this bill due to disagreements about its efficacy and necessity. Heal the Bay supports measures such as Senate Bill 1 as they are critical in protecting our state’s natural resources and we were disappointed to see this bill vetoed.

Finally, the pièce de résistance, Senate Bill 54 (Senator Allen) and Assembly Bill 1080 (Assemblymember Gonzalez), also known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. These landmark bills came inches from the end zone, but due to last-minute amendments and new opposition, did not make the deadline to pass this year. Don’t worry, the fight isn’t over. The bills will be eligible for a vote as early as January 2020, and Heal the Bay and other bill’s supporters (all 426,000 of them!) will continue fighting to pass this bill to holistically reduce disposable waste and prevent plastic pollution in the state of California.

Have questions about our advocacy work at Heal the Bay? Interested in hearing about the bills we are fighting for (or against)? Follow us on social media  (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), and reach out to our Science and Policy team!

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Photo by: Kids Ocean Day

California is on the cusp of passing a transformative bill to reduce plastic pollution, and we need your help to get there.

In February of this year, a small group of California State Senators and Assemblymembers came together and introduced a pair of bills to address plastic pollution. Known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, Senate Bill 54 (SB 54) and Assembly Bill 1080 (AB 1080), are poised to become transformative legislation in the global fight against plastic pollution.

California is currently in the midst of a waste crisis. With waste haulers no longer able to export recyclables to countries like China and India for disposal, our plastic trash is piling up, yet our throw-away lifestyle continues to grow. If we continue on with business as usual, we can expect to see a 40% increase in plastic production over the next decade, and more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

Plastic pollution is infiltrating our environment and our communities, carrying with it harmful toxins and contributing to climate change. And the cost of cleaning it all up? That falls on taxpayers. In California, we spend $420 million annually on litter prevention and removal. The time for drastic action is now, and SB 54 and AB 1080 can get us there.

Heal the Bay has been closely tracking and supporting this legislation since it was introduced. At its core, the bills function similarly to the greenhouse gas emissions limit bill of 2006 (SB 32) by setting a reduction target for single-use plastic packaging and products of 75% by 2030. Check out our FAQ for the full break down of the legislative language. Since their introduction, the bills have been amended to include a top 10 list of priority single-use plastic products that will be covered first (to be determined from statewide beach cleanup data, like Heal the Bay’s) and a comprehensive compliance program to ensure producers are reaching their reduction goals.

If SB 54 and AB 1080 pass, California will be at the forefront of the global fight against plastic pollution, and Heal the Bay has been working tirelessly alongside our partners to make that happen. But, now we need your help. The bills will be voted on by September 13 (we don’t know the exact date) and if they pass, they go on to the Governor and need to be signed by him before October 13.



Heal the Bay joined a host of environmental organizations to rally at the California State Capitol in support of the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (SB 54 & AB 1080) on August 21, 2019.


Make Your Voice Heard

Our Senators and Assemblymembers need to hear from YOU now!

Please call your representative and tell them you support SB 54 and AB 1080. A call takes two minutes or less, and it makes a world of difference for our representatives to hear from their constituents.

  1. First, Find your representative.
  2. Second, Call your rep! You can use the script below and add any information of your own to tell them you support The California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. Together, we can pass these bills and make history!

Sample Call Script:
Hello, my name is ____________________and I live in _____________________. As your constituent, I’m calling to urge you to support Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54, which would reduce plastic pollution in California by 75% by 2030 and reduce the increasing costs of cleanups that are falling on taxpayers.

Plastic pollution is no longer just an environmental problem, it is a financial issue and a public health concern. Right now we are in the midst of a recycling crisis, and California is unable to deal with mounting plastic waste.

Our communities and our environment need to be protected now. That’s why I’m urging you to support AB 1080 and SB 54 in addressing plastic pollution before it’s too late. Thank you.

 



California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act,

So, you heard California wants to eliminate single-use plastics? Here’s what you need to know and how you can help. Ready to take action? Urge our representatives to pass new policies by signing the Plastic Petition.

The California Senate and Assembly introduced two bills earlier this year that plan to drastically reduce plastic pollution. These bills are Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080 and are referred to as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

California is not alone in this endeavor to address single-use plastic at the source. Cities, nations and even the entire European Union have passed similar legislation. What do we know about these brand new bills, and what does the potential policy shift mean for California and the U.S.?

Here are some common questions and misconceptions about this important legislation.

I heard California is going to ban all plastic! Is that true?

The proposed legislation in California isn’t going to ban all plastic. Instead, the policies would set goals for the reduction of single-use disposable products and packaging, including plastics. By 2030, 75 percent of all single-use plastic packaging and products sold or distributed in California would need to be reduced, recycled or composted. After 2030, all single-use packaging and products must be effectively recyclable or compostable. As part of the shift toward a circular economy, the bills also instruct CalRecycle to develop incentives and policies to encourage in-state manufacturing using recycled material generated in California.

These targets would work similarly to California’s greenhouse gas emissions standards passed last year, which set a goal to move towards 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The target was set and a plan will be developed to meet that target. Think of these plastics bills as a bold vision, with a specific plan to come later. Read the fine print.

What about recycling? Isn’t that important?

Yes, but, recycling as it exists today won’t solve the plastic pollution problem on its own.

Recycling is an important part of the puzzle, especially in the aftermath of China’s recently passed National Sword Policy that prohibits the United States from exporting our recyclables to China. India is quickly following suit, too. And we don’t blame them; it’s our dirty trash after all, and the United States needs a real plan to deal with it.

One of the key components of California’s bills is the standardized definition of what makes an item “recyclable”. For an item to be considered “recyclable”, it not only has to meet strict material requirements, but there also must be infrastructure in place that will ensure the proper recycling of that item, such as curbside pick-up and accessible recycling facilities.

It’s not enough for an item to be able to be recycled or composted, it has to actually happen.

Okay, so recycling is covered, but what about composting?

Just like recycling, these bills will create strict definitions and standardizations for compostable items. This clause will ensure environmental benefit by taking already defined standardizations such as “marine degradable” into account. As with recycling, the bill goes another step further and requires that items are actually being composted at proper facilities to earn the title of “compostable”.

Speaking of composting, what about compostable plastics? I heard those are okay to use!

Excellent question. It’s important to note that, although they sound sustainable, compostable plastics are not a good alternative. Compostable plastics may have benefits in the durable product world; however, they pose another set of issues for single-use products. They do not degrade in aquatic environments and require industrial composting facilities to break down, which we don’t currently have as part of the waste management infrastructure in greater L.A. The legislation being introduced in California will work to increase this infrastructure in L.A. and throughout the state so that all compostable items are being properly composted, helping to “close the loop”.

Wait, what does “close the loop” mean, and how is that related to a “Circular Economy”?

Right now, our global economies operate on what we call a “linear” system. We extract resources, produce products, and then discard the waste, known as “take-make-dispose”. Very little of those extracted resources are looped back into the economy to create new products, mostly due to cost and lack of infrastructure. A “circular economy” is the opposite system, where the raw materials used to make products are recovered to make new ones, with little to no waste. The process of moving from a linear system to a circular one is commonly referred to as “closing the loop”, and would drastically reduce our global waste and plastic pollution crisis by reducing the amount of waste we create. It’s sustainability at its simplest!

Didn’t Europe do something like this, too? Is California’s bill the same?

The European Union passed the EU Directive on Single-Use Plastics and Fishing Gear, a comprehensive plan to drastically reduce plastic pollution through a variety of different approaches. Sounds similar so far, but this directive is a bit different than what we have proposed here in the Golden State. Firstly, the main goal of this directive was to reduce plastic pollution, not necessarily reduce single-use plastics at the source. Secondly, the bill targets 10 very specific items that are most commonly found on European beaches based on beach cleanup data. Each item is then assigned one or more approaches, such as market restriction measures (an outright ban) or producer responsibility schemes (charging the maker of the product with the costs of cleaning it up). On the flip side, California is aiming to set broad plastic reduction targets, instead of focusing on specific items.

Hasn’t this already happened in some cities in California?

Sure has! We have seen the passing of comprehensive single-use plastics legislation in Berkeley, Santa Monica, and Manhattan Beach. There have also been strong plastics ordinances passed all over the state that focus on everything from single-use plastic straws to plastic foam to-go containers. A statewide act will help to strengthen already existing local legislation and give the rest of the state the incentive it needs to reduce its waste.

I’m on board! What can I do to help get this legislation passed?

We are stoked to hear you want to help! Throughout the next year, these new bills will be heard by multiple committees and by the state houses. Both bills have already moved through their first committee hearing and passed!

Now, the best thing you can do is let your state representatives know you support these bills. Sign our Plastic Petition urging the California Senate and Assembly to fast-track the approval of the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. Call, email or write a letter to your representatives and let them know about these bills and why you support this proposed legislation. Find your representative.

And if you live in the City of Los Angeles, please contact your City Council Member and tell them you support this State legislation and want to see something similar in the City of L.A. There is some movement at the City of L.A. to enact similar legislation, but we need more voices to push it along.

Lastly, take the Plastic Pledge and spread the word! The more support this legislation gets from local communities, businesses, organizations, and people like you, the more likely it will be passed. Raise your voice and stay tuned for updates.