California takes sweeping action to curb single-use plastic

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a new law to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our environment.

CA plastics victory banner
Ricky Mackie Photography | TPIN
State Sen. Ben Allen alongside CALPIRG, Environment California, and other supportive organizations at the State Capitol in June leading up to the final vote.

California has taken sweeping action to reduce single-use plastic pollution.

On June 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, SB 54. Spearheaded by state Sen. 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.

Here’s why this new law is so important:

Our economy encourages the production, use and disposal of the greatest possible amount of “stuff” at the greatest possible speed. Too often, we don’t think twice about what happens when we’re done with products, from laundry detergent bottles to foam takeout containers to plastic spoons and forks. What goes around comes around: What we throw away comes back to us in forms ranging from tragedies such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contributing to a biologically diminished ocean, to plastic particles in our air, water, bodies, and wildlife. The new law will help California reduce our contribution to this mess by phasing out non-recyclable and single-use packaging and foodware. For more specifics on the law, be sure to check out our explainer.

This bill is a monumental step forward and the culmination of more than four years of organizing and advocacy. But how did we get here? How do we still win big change in an era when it sometimes feels like we can barely make any progress?

For decades, CALPIRG and Environment California have worked to elevate the well-being of our people and the health of our planet over the production and consumption of more stuff. What we do here in California matters. We can chart a path for other states and nations to follow by transforming our throwaway culture into a circular economy.

In 2016, our organizations and others successfully defended the statewide plastic bag ban after passing it in 2014. But we always knew we would need to tackle other sources of single-use plastic, from straws to foam cups and takeout containers. Californians of all political persuasions agree the issue of plastic in our oceans is a “big problem,” and together our organizations set out to build the political will to take bold action and address another huge source of plastic pollution. The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act reflects these values.

That’s why CALPIRG and Environment California teamed up with other allies to ensure decision-makers overwhelmingly heard from the public over the voices of the plastics industry.

  • Our teams organized news conferences and lobby days calling on legislators to pass plastic reduction legislation. At one event, we brought together bill sponsors and a crew from Frontline PBS as part of their coverage of the rise of the plastics industry.
  • Environment California and CALPIRG canvassers have had hundreds of thousands of face-to-face conversations with individuals across the state about the issue of plastic in our oceans and how they can take action on solutions.
  • CALPIRG and Environment California collected more than 82,000 signatures on petitions calling on elected leaders to act on plastic pollution.
  • CALPIRG Students organizers and student volunteers built support in key districts, holding lobby days with student volunteers, organizing call-in days on college campuses, putting on educational events, panel discussions, rallies and educating and engaging tens of thousands of students up and down the state, while passing local plastic reduction policies at the university and city level.
CA Plastics Rally
Ricky Mackie Photography
Environment California canvasser Valerie Nguyen speaks at a lobby day event in 2019 at the State Capitol.

I hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate this big victory with us. We know our work isn’t over — after last month’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA, we’ll need to work harder than ever to act on climate. But the California legislative session isn’t over until Aug. 31 and there are more bills to pass that will bring us closer to our vision of a cleaner environment. So today, we’re taking a moment to celebrate and share in this victory with all of you. Tomorrow, our work continues.


Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.

Laura Deehan

State Director, Environment California

Laura directs Environment California's work to tackle global warming, protect the ocean and fight for clean air, clean water, open spaces and a livable planet. Laura stepped into the State Director role in January, 2021 and has been on staff for over twenty years. She has led campaigns to make sure California goes big on offshore wind and to get lead out of school drinking water. As the Environment California Field Director, she worked to get California to go solar, ban single use plastic grocery bags and get on track for 100% clean energy. Laura lives with her family in Richmond, California where she enjoys hiking, yoga and baking.

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