The latest data on the state of plastic pollution affirms what we've known for some time: that plastics leaking into the environment are a threat to public health, wildlife, and the environment.
World leaders and policy makers have taken notice. Both the European Union and the UK have proposals to phase out avoidable plastic waste. And while a symbolic action, the Queen of England has banned plastic straws and bottles at all royal estates.
Plastic Pollution in the Marine Environment
Research on the presence of plastic debris in seafood found that among fish and shellfish from the USA, 33% of individual fish sampled and 67% of the species sampled contained plastic debris. Research on the presence of microfibers in tap water found 94% of samples from the US were contaminated with plastic microfibers.
Consumption of plastic by wildlife threatens the survival of important species like phytoplankton, lanternfish, marine birds, and whales. Ingestion of plastic by mesopelagic fish, or fish which inhabit the intermediate depths of the sea (approximately 650-3,300ft below the surface) may have an affect on climate change. These fish come to the surface at night to feed on carbon rich plankton. But research has shown that as their natural food source is mixing with plastic, the fish are consuming plastic instead of plankton. This is a significant finding as mesopelagic fishes, like lanternfish, make up more than half of the world ocean's total fish biomass and are consumed by species higher up on the food chain. It has even been theorized that this replacement diet of plastic instead of carbon rich organic matter by these lanternfish is disrupting a significant process that is a major part of the ocean's ability to act as a carbon sink.
The National Sword
Until recently, China had been processing about half of the world's used plastic collected for recycling, but on January 1st, 2018 China implemented a new set of rules that would no longer make their country the dumping ground for plastic. In July of 2017, China announced to the world that beginning in the new year it would no longer accept imports of 24 different kinds of solid waste, including unsorted paper, low-grade plastic, and also set new limits on the contamination allowed in imported recyclables. Although recycling programs globally are scrambling to find markets for their low-grade plastic, there may be an upside to to this change. This new policy, which has been called the National Sword, serves as a wake up call for the U.S. and highlights the need to invest in utilizing this material domestically.
CAW's Plastic Pollution Action Plan
The keys to any successful material specific policies to reduce plastics leaking into the environment:
- Producer responsibility to achieve specific recycling and reduction goals.
- Producer responsibility to cover the net costs of the program.
- A Recycle or Die provision for problem products and materials whose environmental and public costs exceed their utility.
Legislation in process:
- SB 168 (Wieckowski) would require CalRecycle to establish minimum recycled content standard for all beverage containers.
- AB 1884 (Calderon) would prohibit the provision of straws unless a customer specifically requests one.
- AB 2379 (Bloom) would require all clothing made from more than 50% polyester include a label that warns of plastic microfiber shedding and recommends hand washing the item to reduce the impact.
- California's Bottle Bill (Enacted 1987) is the bottle and can take back program in which consumers pay $0.05 for containers under 24 ounces and $0.10 for containers over 24 ounces. That money is returned to consumers when they recycle their containers, or is "donated" to a curbside operator or non-profit recycler depending on how the consumers choses to recycle the container.
- California's Single Use Plastic Bag Ban, SB 270 (Padilla, 2014) effectively phased out single-use plastic grocery bags. Reusable, paper, and (in certain jurisdictions) compostable plastic bags can only be distributed with a minimum 10 cent charge.
- AB 888 (Bloom, 2015) bans the sale of plastic microbeads found in toothpaste, facial scrubs and other personal care products.
- AB ensures accurate environmental advertising of plastics by allowing only the use of terms that can be verified by an American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) standard specification.
- AB 1294 (Berman, 2017) indefinitely extends requirement for manufacturers and suppliers of plastic products which contain claims of recycled content to maintain documentation that supports those claims.
- SB 458 (Wiener, 2017) In light of California's beverage container recycling center closure crisis, SB 458 authorizes the creation of five pilot project recycling centers across the state.
- AB 2530 (Gordon, 2016) requires manufacturers to report the amount of virgin and post-consumer plastic they purchase the previous year.
- AB 1005 (Gordon, 2016) extends California's Plastic Market Development Program, which has successfully increased the in-state processing and use of recycled plastic, to 2022.
- AB 199 (Eggman, 2015) provides financial assistance in the form of sales tax exemption on equipment purchases to businesses that process or utilized recycled feedstock.
- AB 258 (Krekorian, 2007) created a task force to monitor and regulate the release of preproduction plastic pellets released into the marine environment.
Updated February 5, 2018