VICTORY: California takes sweeping action against single-use plastic

Blog Post |

California just took sweeping action to reduce single-use plastic pollution. 

Last Thursday, Governor Newsom signed the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, SB 54–spearheaded by Senator Ben Allen. The new law will greatly reduce the amount of plastic (by an estimated 23 million tons over 10 years—that’s 26 Golden Gate Bridges or a forest of nearly 1 million giant redwood trees) that ends up in our environment. The new law mandates significant reductions in single-use foodware and packaging, requiring that those items actually be recyclable or compostable, and holding producers financially responsible for the plastic they put into our communities.

For decades, young people have been at the forefront of the environmental movement, pushing our leaders to act, and the passage of SB 54 is no exception. CALPIRG Students have been leading the charge calling on California’s leaders to curb plastic pollution for more than a decade, building the political will to turn off the tap of single-use plastics. This new law is the biggest step forward to curb plastic pollution in the entire country and you can read more about how it works here.

CALPIRG student leaders from UC Santa Barbara host a beach cleanup event during Earth Day. Photo credit: Staff.

That work began with the statewide plastic bag ban. After students helped pass local bans on plastic bags, California passed a statewide bag ban in 2014, and students helped to defend the ban when it was on the ballot two years later. Then young people set their sights on tackling the next major source of single-use plastic: from the food we eat and the products we buy. 

As with the bag ban, that work started locally, at the university level. In 2020, students collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions and helped their peers to take action calling on the University of California system to address plastic pollution. Students won several big victories, starting with UCLA, which vowed to curb single-use plastics on campus. Then, UC Berkeley followed suit, adopting a commitment to eliminate all non-essential single-use plastic with viable alternatives by 2030. Finally, the entire University of California system committed to phase out non-essential single-use plastic products completely by 2030. At the same time, working alongside partners at Environment California, student leaders also advocated for the first iteration of SB 54, which failed to pass out of the California legislature.

CALPIRG student leaders and staff, alongside partners, rally outside of the State Capitol before yesterday’s final vote on SB 54. Photo credit: Richard Mackie Photography.

Though the 2019 bill didn’t pass, students never lost hope, continuing to build support for statewide action that led to last week’s passage of the updated SB 54. One key reason the bill passed is because young people never stopped calling for change over the last four years. CALPIRG Students organizers and student volunteers built support in key districts, generated more than 30,000 petition signatures to legislators, held lobby days with student volunteers, organized call-in days, put on educational events, panel discussions, and rallies (one event on Earth Day this year featured a statue made of trash collected by students), and educated and engaged tens of thousands of students up and down the state. 

I hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate this big victory with us. We know our work isn’t over—that was made especially clear after last week’s WV v. EPA Supreme Court decision limiting the power of the EPA to tackle climate change. So today, we’re taking a moment to celebrate and share in this victory with all of you. Tomorrow, our work continues.

To a plastic free future,

Clara Castronovo
UCLA Class of 2024
Board Chair
CALPIRG Students

Dan Xie profile pic

Dan Xie
Political Director
Student PIRGs

About the Student PIRGs
The Student PIRGs’ mission is to ensure students have the skills, opportunities and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Our youth civic engagement network of 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) student-directed and funded organizations across the country has nearly 300,000 dues-paying student members in 11 states. Each year, 4,000 students get their first hands-on experience in organizing and activism while volunteering with us. Every year, we reach hundreds of thousands of students and generate 150,000 grassroots actions. Since our founding, the Student PIRGs have trained over 1 million volunteers.