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A Voice for Our Ocean

With SB54, “California is righting the ship,” leading U.S. out of ocean plastic pollution crisis

Ocean Conservancy scientists estimate that newly passed California law will eliminate 23 million tons of plastics in the next 10 years – equivalent to 26 times the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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GreenTurtle-bag_TroyMayne
Green Turtle attempting to eat a discarded plastic bag. © Troy Mayne

Sacramento, CA – Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB54, or the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, which passed the state Assembly with a 67-to-2 vote yesterday evening and the state Senate with a 29-to-0 vote this morning. Ocean Conservancy has been negotiating the language of this bill with fellow environmental advocates for months to make it the single strongest plastics legislation ever seen in the United States. 

“It’s hard to capture how momentous this feels,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, U.S. Plastics Policy Analyst at Ocean Conservancy and a principal contributor to the bill text. “The United States is the number-one generator of plastic waste in the world and a top contributor to the ocean plastics crisis. We can’t solve this problem without U.S. leadership, and by passing this law, California is righting the ship. This is a huge win for our ocean.” 

Scientists estimate that some 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean every year. Data from 35 years of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup show that the majority of the most common items littering our beaches and waterways are single-use plastic packaging and food ware.

Among other measures, the 76-page bill: 

  • Requires a 25% reduction in single-use plastic packaging and foodware by weight and item count by 2032;
  • Mandates that nearly half of that reduction result from the direct elimination of plastic packaging or switching to reuse and refill systems rather than simply replacing it with alternative single-use materials (Ocean Conservancy scientists have estimated that this provision alone would directly eliminate 23 million tons of single-use plastic packaging and foodware over the next ten years – equivalent to nearly 26 times the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge);
  • Requires that all single-use packaging and foodware, including non-plastic items, be recyclable or compostable within the state of California by 2032 and mandates a 65% recycling rate for plastics by that time; and
  • Provides hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to support communities and restore ecosystems most impacted by plastic pollution.

“A few years ago legislation of this magnitude was unimaginable in the U.S.,” said Jeff Watters, Vice President of External Affairs at Ocean Conservancy. “We are here today because of an incredible amount of hard work, perseverance, and ambition from Senator Ben Allen, Assemblymember Luz Rivas, their tireless staff, and the team of experts at CalRecycle. This is what strong, forward-thinking political leadership looks like.

The bill was signed just hours after petitioners withdrew a parallel plastic pollution ballot measure. Ocean Conservancy had supported both efforts but supported withdrawal of the ballot measure given that SB54 had passed both chambers of the state legislature.

“Our number one priority has always been fewer plastics on shelves and less plastic pollution in our ocean, and both SB54 and the ballot measure were viable pathways,” said Nicholas Mallos, Senior Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program. “We believe this is the surest outcome for impact, though. Historically, ballot initiatives face an uphill battle for implementation even when passed, meaning it could be years before any of its provisions would go into effect. Not only is SB54 as strong or stronger than the ballot in many ways; but we are looking at guaranteed action on this critical issue immediately.”

golden gate bridge poster

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Dr. Anja Brandon, Nicholas Mallos, and Jeff Watters are available for interviews.

About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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