Assembly Committee Votes to Curb California Marine Pollution
By Leila Monroe
Good news came last week when the California Assembly Natural Resource Committee passed Assembly Bill 521, a bill that would protect our oceans, coasts and communities by adopting a statewide goal of reducing marine plastic pollution by 75 percent by 2020, and by 95 percent by 2025.
Known as the Marine Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, and authored by Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) and Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), the bill directs CalRecycle, in coordination with the California Ocean Protection Council and the State Water Board, to establish a program requiring shared responsibility from the producers of the most common types of polluting plastics like food containers, to-go ware, straws, bottles and bottle caps, etc., and to meet these targets within established timeframes.
October 2010, miles of trash washed onto the shores of Marina del Rey and Venice Beach California, it's a sad reminder of our consumption of plastics in the United States. Photo credit: Michael Dorausch
The plastic that pollutes our oceans and waterways has severe impacts on the environment and our economy. Seabirds, whales, sea turtles and other marine life often eat marine plastic pollution and may ultimately die from choking, intestinal blockage and starvation. This pollution also causes substantial costs to taxpayers and local governments, including flooding from blocked storm drains and lost tourism revenue due to filthy beaches. California's coastal cities and counties spend about $420 million each year to combat litter and curtail marine debris, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. EPA.
How Does AB 521 Work?
AB 521 would make producers of plastic products (particularly single-use packaging) do their fair share to keep plastic out of our oceans, rivers and lakes. It will encourage industry to make smarter, less polluting products while saving taxpayers and local governments money by reducing waste management, litter cleanup and recycling costs. AB 521 would enhance, expand, and coordinate existing local and state marine plastic pollution prevention programs and provide urgently needed resources to achieve a more comprehensive solution. The bill would also provide producers with the flexibility to determine the methods that work best for them to achieve the established targets.
The bill has already attracted an impressive list of supporters, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and 30 other organizations, local governments and businesses. Assembly Natural Resources Committee members Chesbro, Muratsuchi, Stone, Skinner and Williams unanimously approved the bill, and it now moves forward to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Marine Plastic Pollution is a Global Problem with Local Solutions
As I've blogged before, today we produce far more plastic waste than can be recovered or recycled. As a result, plastic now pollutes the farthest reaches of the world's oceans - from the deep seabed of the Arctic, to once-pristine coasts, to local riverside parks and distant islands. While this is a global problem, we can start with solutions here at home. Consumers can make better choices, but producers of plastics need to make changes too.
AB 521 is the first step to the solution, along with your critical support. As AB 521 moves through the California legislature, you can provide your support by calling members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to let them know you support this bill. By following us on Twitter @EndPlasticTrash, and liking us on facebook.com/StopPlasticPollution, you can stay involved in this exciting and ground breaking solution for our oceans and communities.
Leila Monroe is a staff attorney in the Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Leila works at the state, national and international levels on a range of issues including: ocean governance, ecosystem-based management of new industrial uses of the ocean, marine protected areas, shark conservation and marine plastic pollution.