Earth Day 2018: Here are 6 California bills that aim to reduce plastic litter and pollution

State lawmakers got the memo in advance.

The theme of Earth Day (Sunday, April 22) is “End Plastic Pollution,” but California legislators are already on the case. Four years ago, they made California the first state to ban single-use plastic grocery sacks — and 52 percent of voters agreed with the law in a 2016 referendum.

This year, the lawmakers are going after a range of other plastics that litter the ocean, beaches, streets and parks.

While cleanups like those scheduled for the upcoming weekend remove rubbish from the beaches and other areas, wind and waves — and people — soon arrive with more. Environmentalists say single-use plastics are likely to continue to litter the landscape as long as they’re offered to consumers. Additionally, many plastics end up at sea, where they threaten sea life and degrade the ocean’s ecosystem.

Some businesses have gotten a jump on problem plastics ahead of statutory mandates. The Surfrider Foundation lists several dozen Southern California restaurants, for example, that exercise at least seven environment-sensitive practices, including reusable tableware, no polystyrene (Styrofoam) and no plastic takeout bags.

Here are measures being considered by the state Legislature this session:

Plastic straws

AB 1884 would ban restaurants from offering single-use plastic straws unless requested by the customer. Some restaurants have already instituted this practice while others use compostable paper straws.

Plastic straws are the fifth most common beach trash in the U.S., according to data from six U.S. organizations involved with cleanups and cleanup analysis. The data was compiled by 5 Gyres Institute, which is dedicated to reducing plastic pollution.

The group’s analysis also found that of straws that could be traced to their source, more came from Starbucks than anywhere else.

Microfibers

AB 2379 would require clothing with more than 50-percent synthetic material to include a label noting that the garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed.

“Effluent from washing machines and wastewater treatment plants is a significant source of microfiber pollution that enters waterways and the ocean,” according to the bill.

Synthetic debris was found in 25 percent of fish and 33 percent of shellfish tested in a study detailed by Science Reports. One obvious approach for consumers concerned with the environment is to avoid clothes made from synthetic materials.

Patagonia, which both sells clothes microfibers and is consider environmentally sensitive, says consumers can reduce the amount of microfibers going into the ocean by washing clothes only when necessary, by using front-loading washers and by putting clothes in a filter bag before washing.

Plastic bottle caps

AB 2779 would require single-use plastic beverage bottles with caps to have those caps permanently tethered to the bottle.

Bottle caps are the second most common beach trash, according to the 5 Gyres Institute report. Coke and Gatorade bottle caps were those identified most often.

Food packaging

SB 1335 would require that take-out containers and other single-use packaging for ready-to-eat food and beverages at state agencies and large state facilities be recyclable.

Food wrappers are the most commonly found beach trash, according to the 5 Gyres Institute.

Cigarettes

SB 836 would ban smoking on state beaches. Many city and county beaches already have such prohibitions. After Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a state beach ban last session, legislators lowered the maximum fine to $25 and allow park officials to designate smoking areas in the current proposal.

AB 2308 would ban the sale of cigarettes with single-use filters. That’s right, this far-reaching bill would prohibit selling nearly all cigarettes currently available in the state.

The Ocean Conservancy reports that cigarette butts are the single most collected item at its beach cleanups and CalTrans estimates it costs $41 million annually to clean up cigarette butts, according to the bill.

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