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California Plastic Waste Reductions Initiative

Every year over 300 million tons of plastic are produced and of that 14 million tons end up in our oceans. Most plastics are petrochemicals made from hydrocarbons derived from fossil fuels. The production of plastics perpetuates our reliance on nonrenewable resources and the litter of these plastics becomes a form of oil pollution. Plastic pollution is detrimental to both the environment and people, and it also disproportionately affects low-income communities. Hence, the “California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative” seeks to address this ongoing issue.

Illustrated by Eric Cai

By Emma Lin and Benjamin Qiao

Editor: Naomi Lin

2 February 2022


On November 8, 2021, the “California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative” qualified for the ballot in California. This ballot initiative would require the California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery (CalRecycle) to adopt regulations that reduce the use of single-use plastic and ensure such plastics be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and to reduce said waste by 25% by 2030. It would also prohibit legislation that reduces funding to specified state environmental agencies below 2019 levels and allocate revenues for recycling and environmental programs. The ultimate purpose of the ballot is to reduce the use of single-use packaging as well as develop long-term incentives to maintain and increase recycling, composting, reuse, and remanufacturing infrastructure in order to mitigate and abate sources of plastic pollution and their effects on the state’s natural environment and communities.

The ballot would also enact a fee on single-use plastic packaging and foodware. CalRecycle would determine the fee amount, up to a maximum of one cent per item of packaging or foodware, and beginning in 2030, the fee will be adjusted based on changes in the California Consumer Price Index. The estimated revenue from the fee will likely land in the range of a few billion dollars annually, distributed to CalRecycle (50%), the California Natural Resources Agency (30%), and local governments (20%). The revenue allocated to CalRecycle would be for the purpose of implementing and enforcing the measure and providing funds for recycling, reduction, and composting efforts. The revenue allocated to the California Natural Resources Agency would be for state and local grants to address the environmental impacts of plastic pollution, and the revenue allocated to local governments would be for recycling and composting programs, as well as plastic pollution reduction.


Although efforts to limit plastics and plastic waste are nothing new, there have been many roadblocks in the war to reduce plastics; the most notable being the plastics industry—both the chemical giants making the plastics and the companies using it for their products. One such example is New York’s Suffolk County’s plastic bag ban in 1988. What the county saw as a step forward was seen by the plastics industry as a threat. According to a research firm called the Freedonia Group, the plastics industry will be worth approximately $365 billion by 2025, and the industry spends millions of those dollars on pro-plastic marketing. Jennie Romer, a lawyer and longtime anti-plastics activist states that “the industry has kept us from confronting plastics for decades through corporate lobbying and threats of litigation. Billions of single-use plastic items have made it into our environment because of this.”

Final Deliberation:

Most plastics are petrochemicals made from hydrocarbons derived from fossil fuels, which perpetuates our reliance on nonrenewable resources and is also a form of oil pollution. This pollution heavily impacts the environment; over 9 million tons of plastic enters the global oceans per year, causing the deaths of over one million marine animals. It also affects certain groups more than others; plastic pollution causes environmental detriments, such as emissions from plastics equivaling nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2, and health detriments, such as preterm birth and respiratory illness, that disproportionately affects low-income and Latinx communities, with an estimated 1.8 million Latinx people in the U.S. living within a half mile of a gas or oil facility.

Unsurprisingly, plastic producers are the primary opposition party. Tim Shestek, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, says, “Plastics are indispensable to the modern way of life, and are critical to achieving sustainability goals, like light weight vehicles, making buildings and homes more energy-efficient and reducing food waste — all of which help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” While it is true that plastics cannot be completely removed because of their importance in light weight vehicles and energy efficient buildings, this ballot only targets single-use plastic packaging and foodware. These single-use plastics prioritize convenience over durability and reuse, produced for the sole purpose of being used once and then disposed of, and constitute half of the 300 million tons of plastic created every year. Being single-use doesn’t diminish their impact on people or the environment, and cutting down will help reduce harmful plastic pollution.

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