California Plastic Laws: What You Need To Know

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Even before plastic straw bans grew trendy, California was at the forefront of using less plastic and promoting more sustainable living.

California pioneered a statewide ban on plastics beginning in 2016, when the state became the first in the U.S. to ban most stores from providing customers with single-use plastic bags, following a successful referendum.

But the statewide straw ban is the first-of-its-kind. Though cities across the country—and the world—have adopted plastic straw bans, California is the first U.S. state to issue a statewide ban (check out which other cities have similar bans here.)

California’s plastic straw ban law (Assembly Bill 1884) took effect this month and prohibits full-service restaurants from automatically providing single-use plastic straws unless said straws are specifically requested by the customer.

By the state’s definition, a “full-service restaurant” is an establishment with the primary business purpose of serving food, where food may be consumed on the premises. To define even further, at these restaurants, customers have to be escorted or assigned to a seating area, their orders have to be taken in that area, orders have to be brought to them and the check has to be delivered to the customer in the assigned eating area. Fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, and anywhere you’d receive a to-go cup aren’t included in the ban. The penalty for breaking the ban can cost restaurateurs up to $25 per infraction.

According to environmental group EcoCycle, Americans use an estimated 500 million disposable straws every day and straws were the seventh most common piece of trash picked up on beaches worldwide by volunteer cleanup crews associated with the marine conservation group Ocean Conservancy.

Assemblyman Ian Calderon, who introduced the bill, said he hopes it is an effort to create “awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways and oceans,” according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

When signing the bill, California governor Jerry Brown said these types of single use plastics “are choking our planet.”

“It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it,” Brown wrote. “And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative. But one thing is clear, we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products.”

California is far from alone in its ban. A ban on all plastic utensils is already in place in Seattle, while San Francisco’s straw ban should take effect next year, according to Business Insider. Companies from Starbucks to Aramark and American Airlines (not to mention us at Pregis!) have either vowed to start banning straws or drastically reduce their use. It’s part of a global movement that’s quickly gaining momentum as people rethink their single-use plastic habits: In the UK, Queen Elizabeth ordered that no plastic straws or bottles appear on her royal estates, and Taiwan wants to completely get rid of straws on the island by 2025.

Pregis joins others at the forefront of cutting back on single-use plastics. We’re dedicated to reducing the consumption of virgin raw materials and instead include recycled content in our manufacturing whenever possible. We also offer recyclable products and help to educate customers on the recycling options available to them. Our entire line of Renew packaging products are designed to meet the growing need for sustainable packaging alternatives, offering other environmentally-conscious companies and customers the choice to go green, use less plastic, and lessen their impact on the environment.

Keep in mind, the plastic straw ban is not inherently an issue with straws themselves. While the negative environmental impact of plastic straw use cannot be discounted, banning straws isn’t without consequence: Some people with disabilities depend on plastic straws for safe drinking. Others are learning to make do with reusable metal straws, which may seemingly soon become as common as reusable water bottles and travel coffee mugs.

But plastic straws are a prime example of single-use plastic. Think about it: Have you ever saved a used plastic straw from your to-go beverage to use again later? We’re willing to bet against it.

It’s the startling statistics that are inspiring more people to rethink the plastic in their lives. More than 79% of all plastic waste ends up sitting in landfills, or ends up floating out to sea or littering the land. Another 12% gets burned up in incinerators, adding to pollution of the Earth’s atmosphere. Only 9% of the plastic we use is actually recycled, according to a report published in the journal Science Advances.

So, the statistics are alarming and cities, countries, and continents (well, islands, in the case of Taiwan) are making changes. But are the changes working? Resoundingly: Yes.

Since California banned most stores from handing out single-use plastic bags to customers, shoppers have not revolted or launched recall campaigns against state lawmakers. Food still gets to people’s houses, wrote the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board. Reusable bags did not spark an epidemic of food-borne illnesses, as some critics suggested they would. Consumers didn’t go broke paying 10 cents apiece for the thicker, reusable plastic bags stores are allowed to distribute instead.

Other cities with plastic bag bans reported similar results, according to KQED:

  • In its effectiveness study, San Jose found twice as many people opted not to take a bag post-ban.
  • San Jose also measured the number of plastic bags found in litter and creek cleanups, and saw decreases.
  • California Waste Solutions, which does the majority of recycling for San Jose, reported fewer plastic bags getting caught in recycling machines and a 35-50 percent reduction in downtime because of that.
  • Los Angeles County found its large stores gave away 2 million plastic bags and 196,000 paper bags annually before its ban. A year later, those stores handed out only 125,000 paper bags.

Local bans across the state already had cut down considerably on the plastic bag litter on beaches, but that figure dropped even further after passage of the statewide ban—and the straw ban is forecasted to do the same.

Clearly, California’s plastic bans are working and will likely be adopted elsewhere. In the meantime, how can you help? Start with the packaging you choose. By finding the right solution for every packaging need, nothing is wasted and products stay damage-free, reducing the returns that add up in fuel and energy costs to the environment.

At Pregis, we’re on a mission to help you choose the solutions that perfectly answer any application, so you can be confident you’re doing your part to protect our environment.






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