Support CA’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act and SB 54!

Our world is in a rapid state of change, both culturally and physically. Our planet’s life-giving cycles of carbon, water, and nutrients, and the living systems that depend on them, are under threat worldwide. We need to lower our consumptive impact on the planet – especially from global CO2 pollution and generation of waste – use our natural resources wisely, and build regeneration and circularity into our economies to get back in balance with Nature.

In Nature there is no waste, everything is always moving, at one timescale or another, in interconnected, dynamic, circular systems of life and death. Waste or pollution occurs when we break the elemental cycles or change the concentration of elements in different parts of a cycle, blocking flow and disrupting the previous biogeochemical balance. Out of balance, or out of place elements cause disease and degradation, and untimely death. For example, in most plastic waste, the carbon molecules that make up that material have been moved so far out of place from their preexisting life cycles that they are now ‘stuck’ – in landfills, our neighborhoods, streams, and oceans. We see plastic trash almost everywhere we look! In fact, with most plastics, the molecules are so mixed up that they are not even recyclable.

Let’s dig in here for a moment and unpack this. Plastics are carbon-based molecules transformed into polymers that have had other chemicals added and then have been combined in a myriad of ways to make resins. From polyethylene to polystyrene to polyester, to the half a dozen kinds of polyolefin, to cellulous, acetyl, elastomers, and the many blends of the above, carbon and other chemicals have been moved so far out of their preexisting place in the global life cycle that they are now stuck; indigestible, unrecyclable, and interrupting other living, generating cycles.

Three hundred million tons of plastic are produced every year; half of that production is single-use plastics. Single-use plastic containers, bags and Styrofoam pollution represent half of the plastic waste stream around us. They are choking our waterways, and oceans. Plastic microfibers from our clothes are filling our drinking water, soil, food, and our bloodstreams. The slow leaching of dozens of petrochemical cocktails are now linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a number of cancers. Plastics are everywhere and in almost everything. Plastic pollution is a many-headed hydra fed by decades of fossil fuel subsidies, manufacturing incentives, and a marketing paradigm that prioritized quick, convenient, ever-increasing consumption. We can choose to ignore and do nothing, or we can change the activity that caused the pollution in the first place, which requires meaningful policy change and corresponding public education and political will.

As we work to get a handle on plastic pollution and clean up the messes we’ve made, some good questions to ask ourselves are: what will this thing I am making or buying become? Where does it go after that? Can someone or something eat it, or can it be transformed it into something else that has value? Is it part of a cycle that is healthy and supportive of life around it and the greater whole? Is it compostable or endlessly recyclable?

There are two complementary policy efforts in California right now that would push the market to ask and answer some of these important questions: Senate bill SB 54 and the CA Plastics Pollution Reduction Act. These two policies offer us real ways to get our hands around this massive, multifaceted mess of plastic pollution and provide the funding needed to clean it up. Between these two policies, there are seven key provisions that we believe are essential to move our economy towards one that is circular and more in tune with how Nature works. We must:

    1. Give the State of California the authority to set standard definitions of “recyclable” and “compostable”
    2. Send a market signal to develop new materials and means of delivering products by placing a fee on all single use plastic food-ware and packaging
    3. Incentivize plastic alternatives that are truly compostable or recyclable
    4. Reduce waste management costs for cities and counties
    5. Provide a dedicated source of funds to support composting and recycling infrastructure in California, drive market development and kick-start local circular economies
    6. Direct a significant proportion of any financial support to communities most impacted by pollution and economic hardship
    7. Provide a long-term dedicated funding source for environmental cleanup, conservation, and regeneration.

The Plastics Pollution Reduction Act has strong public support, and is pushing legislators to increase the strength of, and pass, SB 54. Dr. Bronner’s supports both SB 54 and the Plastics Pollution Reduction Act and we hope both policies become law. But if SB 54 doesn’t pass or passes in a watered-down form that does not address the seven key provisions, we’ll increase our support for the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. One item we think is of particular importance in the Plastics Pollution Reduction Act is the sliding scale fee of 0.5 cents to 1 cent that would be placed on all disposable, single-use plastic items and to-go ware, paid for by the producers of the items. This price signal will help close the economic divide that is currently holding back the deployment of alternatives to single-use packaging and the development of bio-based materials that are truly compostable and recyclable.

The money generated by the Act’s fee would go to supporting the cleanup of plastic pollution in waterways and beaches, the development of in-state compost and recycling facilities, and alternative systems that support circular economic solutions. Recognizing the overwhelmingly negative effects that fossil fuel extraction and plastic pollution have had on low-income communities and communities of color, 45% of fee funds would be dedicated to these communities to invest in their own environmental and human health and sustainable economic development. A portion of funds would also, for the first time, create a stable funding source for land and ocean conservation and regenerative agriculture. With regard to regenerative agriculture in particular, the reduction and eventual elimination of plastics from the compost stream, coupled with direct financial incentives for farmers to make, purchase, and use compost (alongside other important soil health practices) will go a long way to making all food grown in California healthier for people and for the planet.

At Dr. Bronner’s we support both SB 54 and the California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act because they reflect our goals of building circular, socially just, and regenerative economies. We believe that if we model our economy on Nature and natural processes, we can move away from a reactive response to pollution and into a new, regenerative paradigm full of wonderful possibilities. And we believe these two policies will help set legal precedent for effective plastic pollution policies nationwide and beyond.

Please join us in supporting these two crucial policies. Tell California legislators to pass SB 54 and lend your support for the California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. We also support the global effort calling on the UN to adopt a binding global treaty on reducing plastic pollution.

See what Dr. Bronner’s is doing to address plastic use.

Calla Rose Ostrander and Darcy Shiber-Knowles made significant contributions to this post. Calla Rose Ostrander is a legislative strategist and organizer working on stabilizing Earth’s climate and scaling circular economies. Darcy Shiber-Knowles is the Director of Operational Sustainability & Innovation at Dr. Bronner’s.

Author Profile

David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

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