U.S. Plastic Recycling Rate Projected to Drop to 4.4% in 2018

Guest post courtesy of Plastic Pollution Coalition

A projection by Plastic Pollution Coalition calls recycling a false solution to the global plastic pollution problem.

Plastic Pollution Coalition has published a new engineering estimate showing plummeting recycling rates for plastic in United States. Author Jan Dell, a chemical engineer, used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data and industry data to estimate the U.S. plastic recycling rate will sink from 9.1% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2018. Dell estimated the recycling rate could drop as low as 2.9% in 2019 if plastic waste import bans are adopted by more countries in Asia.

The engineering estimate shows four factors contributing to the drop in recycling rates: 1. Plastic waste generation is increasing in the U.S. 2. Exports counted as recycled have cratered due to China’s ban. 3. Costs of recycling are increasing since many trucks are needed to collect the widely dispersed waste. 4. Plastic production expansion is keeping the prices of new plastics comparatively low. These factors work against the key premise that waste plastic will someday have sufficient value to drive reclaiming it rather than disposing of it.

“It’s been frequently said: a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome,” said Dell. “We’ve seen promises, goals, ambitions, and aims from companies for nearly 30 years to increase recycled content and reduce the number of plastic bags they hand out. During that time, plastic use and pollution has increased as well-documented by Jenna Jambeck, Roland Geyer, and other researchers. The projected <5% U.S. plastic recycling rate in 2018 should be a wake-up call to the false promise that the existing voluntary, economic-driven U.S. recycling system is a credible solution to plastic pollution.”

The United States ranks 20th on the list of countries contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean with an estimated 88 to 242 million pounds/year of plastic marine debris. The annual International Coastal Cleanup confirmed the evidence of plastic pollution on U.S. coasts in 2017 when more than 3.7 million pounds of trash, the majority of it plastic, was collected by 209,643 people on a single day. The global movement Break Free From Plastic provides a Brand Audit Toolkit for people participating in cleanups to audit and identify the brands and corporations responsible for plastic pollution.

“Recycling as the solution to plastic pollution is a myth,” said Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Recycling is the end point of the production chain, and it does not work without infrastructure and operational systems, which many places in the U.S. and world, simply do not have. In the U.S., industry looks to recycling as a catch-all, when really we must stop using plastic as a material for single-use. Corporations must step up to change their packaging because they are responsible for 100 percent of the damage it does. It’s time for all of us to work together and demand a systems shift away from ‘disposable’  toward nontoxic reusables.”

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of over 750 organizations, businesses, and leaders working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment. Since its founding in 2009, PPC has created a platform to amplify common messaging and best practices, including production of TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch in 2010 and ongoing work to foster solutions-based collaboration between members.Through short-film projects like the 2016 "Open Your Eyes" video featuring Jeff Bridges, community building across national borders, and engaging work on policy change, PPC is moving the needle with its coalition members to reduce the worldwide dependence on single-use plastic.

Wieckowski, Muratsuchi named Recycling’s Legislators of the Year

Senator Bob Wieckowski and CAW Executive Director Mary Murray

Senator Bob Wieckowski and CAW Executive Director Mary Murray

Assemblymember Muratsuchi (middle), and CAW Director of Advocacy Nick Lapis with Executive Director Mark Murray

Assemblymember Muratsuchi (middle), and CAW Director of Advocacy Nick Lapis with Executive Director Mark Murray


Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) were honored by the environmental non-profit organization, Californians Against Waste (CAW) this week for their leadership and support for recycling legislation.

Each year CAW recognizes members of the Legislature for their efforts and dedication to advance waste reduction and recycling legislation in California at its annual Birthday Bash reception.

Senator Bob Wieckowski was honored in recognition of his efforts to support recycling and waste reduction over the years, both as Chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, as well as his authorship of Senate Bill 168. Under his leadership, California has led the nation in ‘connecting the dots’ between the impacts  of food and organic waste disposal and climate change, and enacted dozens of policies aimed at supporting and funding California’s next generation waste reduction and recycling efforts.

“It is an honor to be recognized by Californians Against Waste for my work on waste reduction and for striving to create markets for recycled materials right here in California,” said Senator Bob Wieckowski. “I am authoring SB 168 because by requiring minimum content standards on all beverage containers, we will reduce pollution and create jobs, benefiting our environment and economy.”

“Senator Wieckowski is keeping California at the forefront of recycling through his authorship of SB 168 this year, which has the potential to be a game-changer by establishing mandatory recycled content in beverage containers”, said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “California’s recycling sector has been hard hit by the loss of China’s recycling markets for empty plastic containers. Senator Wieckowski’s SB 168 will help address this emerging environmental crisis, while creating recycling manufacturing jobs in California.”

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi was honored for his efforts this year to support recycling and waste reduction as the Acting Chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. As Chairman he has succeeded in guiding and advancing several priority recycling policies—many of which had stalled in previous years. His advocacy, persistence, and leadership on these issues has been invaluable in moving the needle forward on reducing waste in California.

“I am honored to be recognized by Californians Against Waste this evening.  The work that CAW does in supporting legislation on recycling and reducing waste is critical to preserving our environment”, said Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. “As acting chair of Assembly Natural Resources, I truly appreciate working with CAW to fight to protect our environment.”

“In his time as a long-term member, and current Acting Chair, of the Natural Resources Committee, Assemblymember Muratsuchi has been a stalwart environmental champion, resisting the powerful industry groups that have sought to stifle California’s environmental progress,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy for Californians Against Waste. “In both advocating for positive environmental legislation and in stopping the bad proposals that have gone through the Natural Resources Committee, Assemblymember Muratsuchi has shown tremendous courage and dedication to representing the needs of his constituents.”

Founded in 1977, CAW is a non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization that identifies, develops, promotes and monitors policy solutions to pollution and conservation issues that pose threats to public health and the environment. CAW has pioneered and advocated for the implementation of many of the waste reduction and recycling policies and programs that have made California a leader in the nation.

Senator Wieckowski and Assemblymember Muratsuchi were recognized at CAW’s 41st Birthday Bash on Tuesday, August 14th, at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento.

Eggman Introduces Legislation to Create a “Right to Repair” for Electronics

Read the original press release here.

SACRAMENTO—Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has announced that she will be introducing the California Right to Repair Act. The legislation would require manufacturers of electronics to make diagnostic and repair information, as well as equipment or service parts, available to product owners and to independent repair shops.
“The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence,” Eggman said.
People who can’t afford the high price of manufacturer-based repair services are increasingly forced to prematurely replace durable goods, such as phones, TVs, and appliances. Repairing and reusing electronics is not only a more efficient use of the scarce materials that go into manufacturing the products, but it can also stimulate local economies instead of unsustainable overseas factories.
“People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.”
"The bill is critical to protect independent repair shops and a competitive market for repair, which means better service and lower prices. It also helps preserve the right of individual device owners to understand and fix their own property,” Kit Walsh, Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. “We should encourage people to take things apart and learn from them. After all, that's how many of today's most successful innovators got started."
"Consumers Union thanks Assemblymember Eggman for her efforts to ensure consumers have the choice to fix their own electronic devices or have them fixed by an independent repair servicer”, said Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst for Consumers Union. “Consumers are now being forced to go back to the manufacturer for even simple repairs or refurbishing, or to throw out the device and buy a new one. We look forward to working with Assemblymember Eggman to secure this important ownership right for consumers."
“We should be working to reduce needless waste – repairing things that still have life -- but companies use their power to make things harder to repair. Repair should be the easier, more affordable choice and it can be, but first we need to fix our laws," said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. "Our recent survey, Recharge Repair, showed a surge in interest in additional repair options after Apple announced battery issues. The Right to Repair Act would give people those options."
California joins 17 other states who have introduced similar legislation, which includes: Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia.

State announces grant awards that "fights climate change by feeding the hungry"

CalRecycle issued 31 grants totaling $9.4 million which will go to projects that reduce the amount of edible food sent to landfills and feed people in need. CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program is made possible due to the allocation of funding from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund decided on each year by the state Legislature.

In a press release, CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said, "bolstering California’s food recovery infrastructure will help feed communities in need, create new jobs, and result in significant greenhouse gas reductions”. The projects are estimated to decrease an estimated 6 million tons of food waste landfilled in California each year.

One of the grant awardees, San Diego Food Systems Alliance, announced in a press release, "This grant will support the Smart Kitchens San Diego project, in partnership with Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank and LeanPath, Inc. to provide tools and technical assistance for selected large food production facilities to effectively reduce food waste and donate edible food." Barbara Hamilton, Director of Strategic Initiatives of San Diego Food System Alliance, said,  “Although there is plenty of good food in San Diego county that could be donated to hungry people, non-profit food recovery agencies often lack sufficient transportation and manpower to collect the food”. The Smart Kitchens San Diego project funded with the grant will provide transportation vehicles, refrigeration, and support to facilitate food donation.

LA Sanitation announced in a press release that many of their partner organizations were among the grant awardees, "Several of the organizations working with recycLA service providers have been selected by CalRecycle to receive grants to continue their work in reducing food waste, including Food Finders, Food Forward, LA Kitchen, and St. Francis Center." LA Sanitation Director and General Manager Enrique C. Zaldivar stated, "While recycling will help our City move towards achieving zero waste, food waste also plays a critical role in reducing our dependence on landfills and tackling food insecurity. In cooperation with these organizations, we are on the pathway to getting food to those who really need it most and to reducing the City's dependence on landfills."

The Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant program isn't the only program from CalRecycle that food rescue groups can benefit from. They can also choose to partner with organic waste recycling projects that are eligible for the Organics Grant Program, which is a highly competitive grant program that prioritizes projects with a food waste prevention or rescue element. The role that food waste prevention and rescue has played in meeting organic waste diversion mandates has created many opportunities for partnerships that have resulted not only in less edible food ending up in landfills, but also benefiting the food insecure families in California. 

The future of these grant programs is in the hands of the state Legislature and the Governor, and each year we remind them of the effectiveness of these programs. This month the Governor released his plan for the allocation of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funding, and it proposes a 50% cut in CalRecycle funding, despite CalReycle's programs being highly oversubscribed as well as among the most cost effective.

Debate Over Tethered Bottle Caps Heats Up

In the past few weeks, nearly a dozen media outlets have covered the statewide debate over Assemblymember Mark Stone's AB 319*, a bill that would require all plastic beverage containers sold in California to have caps that are connected to their bottle. As the third most common item found polluting California beaches, AB 319 has the potential to prevent the littering, landfilling, and pollution caused by more than five billion bottle caps discarded in California every year. CAW supports the bill.

One Way to Cut Plastic Pollution

The following is as published in an Op-Ed to the Sacramento Bee by Miriam Gordon and Nick Lapis on January 3, 2018. Read the original here. CAW is in support of the referenced bill, AB 319.


"If you’re old enough to remember walking the beaches of Malibu or Coronado in the 1970s, you can vouch for what was then often the truth of beach life in California – stepping on pop-tops, the aluminum ring that came off after opening a can of soda.

Today, small plastic caps from bottled water line soccer fields and litter streets, parks and beaches, where they trail only cigarette butts and food wrappers among our leading sources of litter.

As these caps proliferate as a public nuisance, it’s useful to remember how pop-tops disappeared almost overnight. The beverage industry perfected a better way to seal aluminum cans: the stay-top, which remains attached and gets recycled along with the rest of the can.

But just as the nuisance of throw-away aluminum rings was eliminated, an equivalent one began to emerge. In 1977, the bottled water revolution was launched, and sales have been surging ever since. In 2016, bottled water passed soda as America’s top-selling beverage – a total of 12.8 billion gallons a year, packaged in more than 50 billion plastic bottles, most sealed with detachable caps.

These tiny plastic caps are not just unsightly, but have become a serious environmental hazard. Small, buoyant and easy for wildlife to ingest, they are part of the plastic pollution in oceans and waterways. Seabirds are dying of starvation with stomachs full of bottle caps and other plastic debris.

The good news is that just like pop-tops, plastic bottle caps can be eliminated. Existing technology makes it relatively easy to tether the caps during bottling. Most companies replace the machinery entirely every five years or so.

One water bottler, CG Roxane that sells Crystal Geyser water, recently changed to a tethered cap in plants in Texas and in California to curb litter and plastic debris in the ocean.

The industry is well aware of consumer concerns about the environmental impact of all those plastic bottles, and how those concerns might hurt its growth as it competes with reusable aluminum water bottles.

In addition, this important step would come at an opportune time – just as China has decided to stop taking the plastic waste we’ve been sending them for years. Meeting California’s goal of 75 percent recycling will require a much greater reliance on in-state plastic bottle recyclers such as Carbon Lite, which wants the caps and recycles them.

There is a bill to eliminate detachable caps before the Legislature, Assembly Bill 319. We need a legislated solution because most leaders in the beverage industry have refused to take the kind of action they did in the 1970s to protect the environment and prevent litter.

Miriam Gordon is policy director at the UPSTREAM Policy Institute in San Francisco and can be contacted at miriam@upstreampolicy.org.

Nick Lapis is director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste and can be contacted at nicklapis@cawrecycles.org."

Reflecting on 2017- Gearing up for 2018

Californians Against Waste has been working hard all year to advance recycling and waste reduction in the state. Today, we're looking back at all we were able to accomplish, and all that we hope to accomplish in the future, as a result of your continued support. 

Increased Funding for Recyclers


We began the year urging Governor Brown and the State Legislature to prioritize the Bottle Bill, and we haven't given up. 
This fall, CalRecycle, the states recycling agency, exercised its administrative authority to propose emergency regulations to increase state payments, called processing payments, made to recycling centers. The increased payments to recycling centers in 2018 will help struggling centers stay open and allow our State Legislature to continue negotiating permanent reform. 




CAW Legislation Delivers


In February, we saw a CAW sponsored law prohibiting the use of the term "biodegradable" from being used in the marketing of plastic products get put into action. Twenty-three of the State's District Attorneys announced that they had reached a settlement with Walmart to pay nearly $1 million, the largest fine issued to date for the sale of products that make misleading environmental claims. 
In March, further success in cracking down on false environmental advertising came in the form of a federal appeals court denying an appeal filed by a company that was sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for using deceptive claims of "biodegradability". The decision sided with an Amicus brief filed by CAW in affirming the FTC's authority to prohibit greenwashing. 


2017 Put a Dent in Food Waste


We sponsored two bills aimed at addressing the need to reduce food waste, both of which were passed the State Legislature and signed into law. AB 954, which promotes the use of uniform phrases for food date labels, and AB 1219, which updates and expands on California's food donor protection laws and requires statewide outreach to increase awareness of these laws. 



The Fight for Sustainable Packaging Continues


Over the summer we saw a wave of support for replacing Styrofoam food containers with more sustainable alternatives, which led to local action by ten local governments, including Los Angeles County. While the statewide legislation to ban polystyrene food containers is on hold until 2018, there is no shortage of supporters who are urging their own cities to pass a ban




New Laws to Reduce Waste Approved


In September, the Governor signed almost every recycling bill that passed the State Legislature into law, and approved the allocation of $40 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for CalRecycle's grant programs, which fund composting and recycling facilities, as well as food waste prevention. 





Building a Future for Statewide Composting


In October, CalRecycle published draft regulations for the implementation of SB 1383, the Short Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Act, which was signed into law in 2016. When final, these regulations will require a 75% reduction in the disposal of organic waste by 2025, as well as a 20% reduction of edible food waste. With these regulations, statewide composting will finally become a reality. 





Plastic Bag Ban Proves Successful

plastic bags.png

November 8th was the one year anniversary of the passage of Prop 67, the statewide single use plastic grocery bag ban. Litter data from Coastal Clean-up Day, held annually in September, shows a substantial decrease in plastic grocery bag litter. Preliminary data from the 2017 clean-up reported by hundreds of clean-up crews across the state shows that plastic grocery bag litter had dropped by 72% compared to 2010, and accounts for less than 1.5% of items littered. 




Help us Continue the Fight


As we approach the new year with our eyes on 2018 legislation that will further improve recycling and waste prevention, we remain focused on some key issues: fixing the Bottle Bill, replacing expanded polystyrene food containers with sustainable alternatives, reducing food waste, and increasing recycling infrastructure. 





We're celebrating these successes by taking this opportunity to say THANK YOU to all of our supporters who made these 2017 wins possible and to those who continue to support our work. 

CalRecycle Takes Action to Support Recycling Infrastructure

California has approved Emergency Regulations this week aimed at increasing incentive payments to the State’s Beverage Container Recycling Infrastructure that has seen more than 37% of centers close since peak recycling in 2013 and recycling rates drop to a nine-year low of 77.4%.

California’s intricate network of beverage container recycling centers supports the most successful beverage container recycling program in the United States. However, faced with decreasing scrap values and outdated regulatory formulas, California’s recycling centers are facing a closure crisis

California’s State Legislature has been debating a permanent fix to the crisis for the last two years but has yet to pass legislation to update the program.

This fall, following the close of the second legislative session without action on California’s Bottle Bill, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), exercised its administrative authority over to propose emergency regulations to increase state payments, called processing payments, to recycling centers.

Processing payments are intended to protect recycling centers from changes in the scrap materials market. One component of the processing payment calculation is a “reasonable financial return” (RFR) for recycling centers. CalRecycle’s emergency regulations adjust what would have been a negative RFR – amounting to zero revenue for centers – to an 11.5% RFR for urban centers and a 16.6% RFR for rural centers.

The adjustment comes in light of newly released biannual data from CalRecycle demonstrating that California’s beverage container recycling rate has dropped four percentage points between fiscal year 15-16 and fiscal year 16-17, to reach a near-decade low of 77.4%. The drop in recycling equates to an additional 1.6 million beverage containers being littered or landfilled every day.

If all goes according to plan, the increased payments to recycling centers in 2018 will help struggling centers stay open, prevent California’s recycling rate from sliding even further, and allow our State Legislature a third bite at the apple of permanent reform when members return to the State Capitol in January 2018. 

One Year Later: Voter Approval of Bag Ban Results in Substantially Reduced Plastic Bag Litter and Waste

SACRAMENTO – One year after Californians voted to enact a state law banning plastic shopping bags--the first state in the nation to do so—state and local officials report a substantial drop in plastic bag litter and waste.

“One year ago, California voters approved Proposition 67 and boldly reaffirmed their support for the environment. Now, California is quickly moving past the era of throw-away plastic bags,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the author of Senate Bill 270, the state law banning single use plastic bags. “When I took on the problem of plastic bag pollution four years ago, California retailers were distributing more than 19 billion single-use plastic bags every year. Today, that number is zero. Once again California is leading the way, creating cleaner communities for all.”

Litter data from the Coastal Clean-up Day, held annually in September, shows a substantial decrease in plastic grocery bag litter, corresponding with the implementation of local and ultimately the statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.
“For decades, plastic bags were one of the most common items collected during the annual California coastal cleanup,” said John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources. “This year, as California continues to transition to reusable bags, we are seeing a substantial decline in plastic grocery bag litter on beaches, rivers and parkways.”

As recently as 2010, volunteers documented more than 65,000 plastic bags littered along California beaches and rivers during the annual clean up, accounting for 7.4% of all items littered, 3rd most prolific behind just cigarette butts and fast food packaging.

By the 2016 clean-up, with better than 40 percent of the state covered by local bag bans, plastic grocery bag litter had dropped by 66%, accounting for less than 2% of items littered.

Final results from the September 2017 clean-up have not yet been completely tallied, but preliminary data reported by hundreds of clean-up crews covering more than 1800 miles across the state shows that plastic grocery bag litter had dropped by 72% compared to 2010, and accounts for less than 1.5% of items littered.

Prior to the enactment of SB 270 (Padilla), the Statewide ban, Californian retailers were distributing an estimated 13.8 billion plastic bags each year.

A 2014 waste characterization study by CalRecycle found that 157,395 tons of Plastic grocery and merchandise bags were disposed in the state. Despite multiple attempts at recycling, CalRecycle reports that recycling remained less than 5 percent.
Plastic is non-biodegradable and plastic bags are made from polyethylene, derived from either natural gas or petroleum. The annual US production of plastic shopping bags uses the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels of oil.

“California’s statewide plastic bag ban has elevated public awareness about the broader problem of ocean plastic pollution – and sparked public interest in taking action to reduce demand for many other kinds of single-use plastic,” said Aimee David, director of ocean conservation policy strategies for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Proposition 67, the 2016 referendum on the state law (Senate Bill 270) passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014, passing 53.3 to 46.7 percent. The law had been challenged by the out-of-state plastic bag industry, which spent more than $6 million to repeal it.

“The 2016 election results demonstrated to policy makers that consumers strongly support the elimination of single-use plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “In the 12 California Counties that have already banned plastic bags, support was most overwhelming, with better than 66% of voters saying yes to Prop 67, and an end to polluting plastic shopping bags.”

"California’s plastic bag ban is proving to be a victory for our oceans and marine life, and for communities all over California," said Linda Escalante, Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The phase out of these plastic bags is an important step in reducing a significant and damaging source of plastic pollution that is costing California communities more than $428 million in cleanup costs.”

“The immediate success of California’s plastic bag ban has demonstrated to policy makers and the public that we don’t have to accept plastic pollution as inevitable,’ said Dan Jacobson, State Director of Environment California. “Single-use plastic packaging that cannot be reduced or recycled will be prime targets for product bans.”

Over 150 organizations back call to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging

Plastic products that are marketed as "biodegradable" or "oxo-degradable" have exploited the wallets of environmentally minded consumers and wreaked havoc on recycling and compost facilities for many years. This is exactly why Californians Against Waste sponsored SB 567 (DeSaulnier) in 2011, which prohibits any use of the term "degradable" when marketing plastic products and requires compostable products to meet specific standards. The producers of these products claim that their "biodegradable" additives for plastics will allow the product to break down completely, within a reasonable amount of time, and without leaving behind any toxic residue. The problem is, no one can prove those statements to be true.

Plastic products labeled as "degradable" are sold as an environmentally friendly alternative, but end up competing with the truly recyclable and compostable alternatives. Often, instead of breaking down completely, "degradable" plastic will fragment into tiny pieces that remain in the environment for decades, contributing to microplastic pollution. Worst of all, these "degradable" plastics can contaminate any recycling facility or compost facility that they infiltrate, causing more material to be sent to landfills. 

This is why over 150 organizations around the world, including Californians Against Waste, have signed a collective statement to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging. Read the full statement here. 

Will Long Beach Be California’s Next "Styrofoam"-Free City?

Just this past Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to move forward with crafting a ban on the usage of toxic and prolific expanded and rigid polystyrene foam to-go food containers, often known by the trademark name “Styrofoam.”

The ban came, in part, following the release of ocean and coastal plastic pollution data conducted by Algalita Marine Research and Education on a two-mile stretch of the Long Beach coastline. The study revealed a whopping four million pieces of polystyrene litter intermingled with beach sand and coastal habitats.

In the last couple of months alone, the Cities of Milpitas and Avalon have also passed bans in their communities. Just this week, South Lake Tahoe city council voted to move forward with drafting a ban on polystyrene. Earlier this month, the City of Alameda expanded their existing ban on expanded polystyrene food take-out containers to require that all single-use food ware be fiber-based compostable.

Perpetuating the statewide movement, Long Beach is on track to become the one hundred and twelfth jurisdiction to phase-out the use of polystyrene food take-out packaging.

According to the Long Beach Post, this ordinance will likely include a phase-out of polystyrene over time; large restaurants, city-owned entities, and city-sanctioned events will be the first entities that will have to comply. The ordinance is also predicted to include a phase-out of polystyrene ice chests and the use of polystyrene beads in bean bag chairs.

Congratulations to the City of Long Beach and the advocates from Surfrider, Algalita, and others who have fought to achieve a future without unnecessary and toxic materials that, by their design, pollute our environment forever.

Governor Signs New Recycling Laws

Sunday, October 15th was the deadline for Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto legislation that had passed the legislature. The Governor has signed 9 bills into law which represented important wins in increasing recycling and reducing edible food waste. In fact, almost every recycling bill that made it through the legislature and onto Governor Brown’s desk has been signed into law.

Here is a summary of recycling legislation signed by the Governor:

New Laws to Reduce Food Waste

  • AB 1219 (Eggman) The California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act strengthens and expands the laws which protect food donors from liability. The new law also requires health inspectors to provide education and outreach on food donor protection laws in order to put an end to the myth that businesses can be sued for donating food - a common misconception that results in food being tossed in the trash.  AB 1219 also explicitly provides protection for the donation of food that is past it's food date label, and extends liability protection to donations made directly to people in need. (CAW co-sponsored AB 1219 with CA Association of Food Banks.)
  • AB 954 (Chiu) addresses confusing and misleading food date labels that lead many consumers and stores to throw away perfectly good food every day. Date labels on food come in a countless variety, some that you might recognize include "use by", "best by", "sell by" or "enjoy by".

    AB 954 promotes the widespread use of two standard phrases for food date labels: “BEST if Used by” for freshness and “USE by” to indicate safety, while also discouraging consumer visible "sell by dates" that consumers confuse for expiration dates. This change will make the difference between different types of food date labels clearer for people. This new law also provides consumer education for the meaning and difference between food date labels. (CAW sponsored AB 954)
  • SB 557 (Hernandez) allows public schools to donate food items to food banks that have been served and placed on share tables. It’s unclear in current law if donation of unclaimed food on school share tables is allowed, leading to many schools throwing out that food. Schools now have explicit authority to donate that food to a non-profit that will redistribute it to those in need and will no longer be forced to throw out edible food. (CAW supported SB 557)

New Laws to Increase Recycling

  • AB 1158 (Chu), sponsored by the National Stewardship Action Council, will improve California's weak carpet recycling law and increase carpet recycling by 50% in two years. The new law protects consumer recycling fee funds from being inappropriately used or subsidizing the incineration of carpet, a wasteful and polluting practice. (CAW supported AB 1158)
  • SB 458 (Wiener) will temporarily relieve some pressure from California's beverage container recycling crisis which has led to hundreds of recycling center closures by authorizing mobile recycling center pilot programs across the state. The mobile recycling centers will operate for two years in areas where there is little to no access to a recycling location. (CAW supported SB 458)
  • AB 906 (Bloom) would prohibit the labeling of plastic bottles and containers with the #1 Resin ID Code (for PET/ PETE plastic) if they are made from PET-G. Because it has different physical properties and melting points, PET-G plastic cannot be recycled with other PET. This new law requires PET-G bottles and containers to be labeled with a #7 Resin ID Code, and requires manufacturers that use this material to pay a greater share of the cost of recycling the containers. Read more.  (CAW supported AB 906)
  • AB 1294 (Berman) stops greenwashing claims by permanently extending a requirement that manufacturers and suppliers of plastic food containers maintain documentation that prove their recycled content claims. This law was set to end in 2018, but it has proven to be useful in keeping recycled content claims truthful. Permanent extension of this law ensures that Californians can trust environmental claims made on plastic food containers. (CAW supported AB 1294)
  • AB 1572 (Aguiar-Curry) extends a law that makes it easier for local governments to report on their compliance with the state’s waste reduction and recycling law. This policy has proven to reduce complexity of reporting requirements and free up more time for local governments to focus on implementing their recycling programs. (CAW supported AB 1572)

New Investments in Waste Reduction Infrastructure

  • AB 109 included a $40 million investment from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the state’s recycling agency, CalRecycle. This money funds programs such as the Organics Grant program, which funds new or expanded composting and anaerobic digester facilities and their food recovery partners, the Recycling Manufacturing Grant program, which funds new or expanded facilities that use post-consumer recycled materials to produce new products, and the newly formed Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant program, which funds projects that divert edible food from landfills by reducing food waste or rescuing food for redistribution to people in need. This new food waste prevention and recovery grant program, which will now be extended for a second cycle, marks the first time that the CalRecycle has offered funding for organizations such as food banks and food pantries to increase their capacity for edible food rescue. (CAW supported AB 109)

Legislation Vetoed by Governor Brown

  • AB 725 (Levine) & SB 386 (Glazer) would have made all state parks and beaches smoke-free. Cigarette butts are the most commonly found item during beach and waterway cleanups, consistently ranking first according to International Coastal Cleanup data. Both bills were vetoed by the Governor. (CAW supported AB 725 & SB 386)

Governor Brown Signs Bill to End Expiration Date Confusion

SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown has signed AB 954, by Assembly Member David Chiu, into law, a bill which will promote the widespread use of standard phrases for food date labels in order to provide more clarity to consumers on the shelf life of their food. Misinterpretation of food date labels is a key factor leading to food waste in American households and supermarkets.

“Every day we open our refrigerators and wonder what the dates on our food mean,” said author of AB 954, Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “In a state where 6 million families are food insecure, a startling amount of food is being wasted every single day because of arbitrary date labels. Consumers deserve to know what our labels mean and whether or not our food is safe to eat. This bill mirrors industry best practices and moves us closer to uniform date labels, which will reduce unnecessary food waste.”

Date labels on food come in a countless variety, some common phrases include, “sell by”, “enjoy by”, “best by”, and “best before”. AB 954 simplifies date labels by promoting two standard types of phrases, “BEST if Used by” or “BEST if Used or Frozen by” to indicate peak freshness, and “USE by” or “USE or Freeze by” to indicate food safety. The use of “Sell by” date labels that are visible to consumers will also be discouraged, due to the fact that these date labels are only meant for stock rotation but are often mistaken as an indication of food safety. The new law also provides consumer education, which is a key component that will result in a more complete understanding of food date labels among the public.

“Many cautious consumers see these dates and toss out perfectly healthy and wholesome food just because it is past "the date" on the package,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy at Californians Against Waste. “Promoting consistent terminology for date labels will give consumers confidence that they’re food is safe to eat and may not need to be thrown out.”

Earlier this week, Governor Brown has also signed another piece of legislation that compliments AB 954 in the effort to reduce food waste. AB 1219, the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), strengthens and expands on existing liability protections for food donors in order to make more food available to food insecure Californians, and ensure that less edible food is sent to landfills.

Californians Against Waste sponsored AB 954 and co-sponsored AB 1219 with the California Association of Food Banks.