CONVENIENCE HAS LED TO A PLASTIC CRISIS
We have only been using single use plastics for about 50 years and during that time have become very dependent upon them, especially in recent years. We have already used more of these items in the 21st century than we did in all of the previous century. Single-use bottles, to-go food containers and plastic bags are highly energy intensive products – a lot of fossil fuels are used to make and transport them to stores. Single use plastics have a very low recycling rate, and there is not a robust recycling market for the small percentage that makes it to a blue bin. This has become more apparent as China stopped taking our waste plastic and there is no alternate market for them. The lightweight composition of plastics allows them to escape easily from trash cans, meaning they often end up in our oceans, streams, and rivers. They then photodegrade into tiny bits that never go away. Our oceans are filling up with these plastic bits, where they attract other chemicals and become toxic ‘pills’ that work their way up the food chain. The disposal side of plastics, like so many other fossil fuel products, is not taken into account when calculating their cost.
WHAT CEC IS DOING
- Single Use Plastic Bags
CEC championed single use bag reduction laws starting in 2008. Working with a local coalition, we achieved success in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and unincorporated Santa Barbara County. These laws eliminated more than 100 million bags in our region and helped push the state to take action.In 2016, CEC was part of a statewide coalition advocating for the passage of Prop 67. The effort was successful and California now has the nation’s first statewide bag reduction law. This law has been implemented seamlessly and has eliminated the distribution of 12 billion bags annually.
- Single Use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS or Styrofoam)
CEC is currently working with other groups to push for laws reducing the distribution of food service and retail EPS. This product, like plastic bags, is lightweight and escapes collection systems easily to end up as litter on our beaches and in our waterways.The first city in Santa Barbara County to pass an EPS reduction law was Carpinteria. They banned foods service EPS packaging in 2009. In late 2017, we worked with them to expand their law to include retail sales of EPS products like cups, plates and coolers. The Carpinteria City Council voted unanimously to expand their law in early 2018, joining Malibu and more than 20 other California cities to include retail sales. Nearly 120 California cities have an EPS food packaging reduction law.We successfully worked with the City of Santa Barbara on an EPS law that would include retail sales in 2017 and 2018, culminating in unanimous passage of this law in July 2018. It went into effect on January 1, 2019. Businesses who can demonstrate a need for an extension can file for a one-year, non-renewable exemption.In partnership with Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper, we will continue advocating for this law throughout the region. We are currently in talks with the City of Goleta and Santa Barbara County. There were more than 200 plastic bag reduction laws in place throughout California before the state took action.
- Straws and Other Food Service Single Use Plastic
During our EPS advocacy in Santa Barbara, we asked that “toss in the bag” items like straws, stirrers and plastic cutlery be available only upon request. Many people consume take-out food at home and don’t need to add to their drawer full of these items. In discussions with the Santa Barbara City Council Ordinance Committee, the proposal grew into ban on plastic straws an stirrers and an on-request policy for plastic cutlery. The full City Council heard this proposal on July 17, 2018 and voted 6-1 to pass it into law. After some additional back and forth, the ordinance was voted into law in October 2018. It went into effect on July 1, 2019. We are proud that Santa Barbara is on the forefront of this important step in continuing to reduce plastic waste. Here are resources that more thoroughly explain the law and how it might be enforced. We also worked with the City of Carpinteria to pass a similar law. CEC, along with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, assisted with business outreach to all of the food providers in Carpinteria. Nearly everyone we spoke with was enthusiastic about ditching plastic in this special coastal community. Our efforts resulted in a law that will take effect on January 1, 2020. The law bans plastic straws, stirrers and lids and requires that condiments be ‘tossed in the bag’ only upon request.