A Hat-Trick Win for Waste In CA

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California made big news earlier this week when Governor Brown signed into law legislation which will phase out the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and pharmacies over the next two years. There should be a flippant line here about the elated reusable bag making industry, but its no joking matter that the bill will also give $2 million in loans to these companies. The bag ban was a big win for the environmental advocacy group Californians Against Waste (CAW) and collaborating groups including, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Environment California.

This an important milestone towards ending our global plastic pollution crisis. In this macabre but true National Geographic animation, Are You Eating Plastic for Dinner? the dangerous effects of these nearly ineradicable polymers are seen on sea life as well as the food we eat. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Charles J. Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute in Long Beach, California commented that prevention strategies are the only way to stop more plastic pollution

The reality is that only by preventing synthetic debris  — most of which is disposable plastic — from getting into the ocean in the first place will a measurable reduction in the ocean’s plastic load be accomplished. Clean-up schemes are legion, but have never been put into practice in the garbage patches.”

For marine ecosystem health, for human health and for overall health and cleanliness of the state and the world, California has set a high standard that we hope to see other’s follow. As joint author of the bill, Senate President pro Tem-elect Kevin de Leόn remarked in the CA government press release:

SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers. We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining – and growing – California jobs. As we further develop our green economy, SB 270 will be a model for balancing the health of the planet with the preservation of people’s livelihoods.”

The bag ban bill, is one of three waste laws that Governor Brown and the CA legislature passed this week. The other two, also backed by CAW are AB 1826 which will require food scraps and yard trimmings to be separated by business so that they can be composted or anaerobically digested, and AB 1594 which makes it unlawful to classify yard trimmings, prunings and other green-waste that is used as landfill covers “diverted” from landfills. These bills will have a big impact limiting greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil health according to the CAW press release:

Even in the best managed landfills, organic waste rots in an oxygen-deprived environment, which leads to the creation of upwards of 7 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, in addition to significant water and air pollution and long-term financial liabilities. Composting and anaerobic digestion not only avoid those impacts, but also build healthy soils through the introduction of organic matter, prevent soil erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and significantly increase water retention at a time when we need it most.”

We are ecstatic about California’s forward thinking and happy to report that this state is not the only one considering anti-bag legislation. The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of all states that have passed plastic bag legislation, and those for whom it is pending. While many of these laws are not as stringent as CA SB270 (except maybe for Rhode Island’s and Puerto Rico’s bag bans, which both go into effect January 2015), they are designed to work towards reducing plastic bag waste by charging taxes or fines for use or sales of the bags. Check out the list, and read more about pending legislation, particularly if you live in MA, NJ, NY or PA!

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Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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