In an effort to reduce plastic waste and tackle climate change, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 54 on June 30th 2022. The new plastic waste law requires all packaging in California to be recyclable or compostable, cuts plastic packaging by 25 percent, and increases recycling rates for single-use plastics to 65 percent, all by 2032.
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The Legacy of Single-Use Plastic
Single-use plastics first became extremely popular in the late 20th century, especially after American entrepreneur Nathaniel Wyeth patented the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) drink bottle in 1973. The bottle became popular for being lightweight, virtually unbreakable, and cheaply produced. Today, around 500 billion of these PET bottles are sold every year. Along with food containers, single-use shopping bags, and every other plastic product made for single-use purposes, PET bottles have devastated the world. Plastic waste lines beaches, ocean floors, sidewalks, and landfills. Microplastics are being found nearly everywhere. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the places where microplastics aren’t being found. Plastic production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, as the raw materials required to synthesize artificial plastics derive from fossil fuels, and greenhouse gases are also emitted as a result of materials being decomposed in landfills without oxygen.
In order to prevent further damage, it is crucial that we reduce our reliance on single-use plastics. The good news is that States like California are taking the necessary steps in order to reduce the production of plastic waste.
How SB 54 Will Reduce Plastic Waste
SB 54 will require all packaging in California to be recyclable or compostable by 2032.
- While a lot of plastic packaging is technically recyclable, a large share of plastic packaging isn’t recyclable. Shopping bags, sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and bubble wrap are examples of non-recyclable plastic.
- Ensuring that all plastic packaging being produced is recyclable is a great beginning step in reducing plastic waste.
- The overwhelmingly obvious exception to “recyclable” plastics is the fact that 91 percent of plastic doesn’t get recycled.
- The next step to keeping plastic waste out of landfills, streets, and the ocean is composting. By solely producing plastics that can break down in compost containers or municipal compost facilities (which can then be used to rejuvenate soil), the amount of plastic waste that reaches the oceans can be reduced significantly.
SB 54 will reduce the amount of plastic packaging by 25% by 2032.
- An essential part of reducing plastic waste is preventing its production in the first place.
- By decreasing the amount of plastic used for single-use purposes and instead using other, reusable materials for those purposes, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up littering the world while emitting greenhouse gases along the way.
SB 54 will increase the recycling rates of single-use plastics to 65% by 2032.
- A global study found that only 9 percent of all plastics actually get recycled. The other 91 percent of plastics are left to fill up the world’s landfills, streets, and oceans.
- While recycling should never have been the only method of reducing plastic waste (as the issue requires a multi-pronged approach), pushing the recycling rate of plastic waste to such high levels will certainly reduce the amount of plastic that litters the world.
While SB 54 is an important beginning step, it is not enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We need to continue to put pressure on our lawmakers to enact laws that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we also need to change our own habits and support companies and industries that have a smaller carbon footprint. Every step we take to make climate change result in a better outcome will result in a better outcome. Conversely, every step we don’t take to make the outcome better will make the outcome worse.