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Will the single-use tax cure the looming trash crisis?


Will the single-use tax cure the looming trash crisis?

by Maria Bruzhayte

Assembly Bill 1080 is heading for the ballot in 2022 and will enact the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. The bill intends to regulate producers, retailers, and wholesalers of single-use plastics. This will transfer the burden of plastic recycling from consumers to the producers. It will require single-use products and packaging made or imported into the state of California after January 1, 2032 to be made from recyclable or compostable materials.

The current recycling system in California is failing due to dropping prices of recycled aluminum, China’s selective approach to accepting recyclables from overseas, and the sheer volume of plastics waiting to be processed at local recycling plants. This bill seeks to revive California’s failing recycling system and to reduce single-use plastics by 75%.

Why do we need this bill?

United States depends on developing countries to sort and recycle our trash. This changed in 2017 when China imposed a ban on certain waste products including mixed paper and most plastics. Locally, the cost of recycling is too high for recycling plants to continue operation and most recyclable waste end up in landfills. In California alone, rePlanet, the largest bottle and can recycling center, closed 284 sites throughout the state. Americans produce more waste than ever and there aren’t enough recycling programs to repurpose our trash.
Contrary to popular belief, not all plastics can be recycled. Household recycling provides a false sense of security. Plastic consumption is growing while the recycling industry is shrinking. Many recyclables become contaminated when they’re placed in the wrong bin.

Some items such as plastic straws, bags, utensils, and takeout containers can’t be recycled at all. Recycling optimists overestimate the value of recyclable goods and underestimate the money and energy it requires to repurpose consumables.

Despite the lack of financial incentives and proper investment in recycling infrastructure, the demand for high quality recyclable materials, such as paper and cardboard, will grow while single use plastics pile up in local landfills.
How is this bill any different?
The bill will shift the recycling burden from local recycling programs to the producers of single-use plastic. This will alleviate the financial strain on local governments that spend millions of dollars every year cleaning up rivers, oceans, and beaches.

According to Mike Sangiacomo, President and CEO of Recology. “This effort intends to course correct the situation by incentivizing a shift to more sustainable materials and developing end markets for the post consumer plastic that remains.” The bill aims beyond shifting the economic burden. It will expand recycling programs, ban non-recyclables (including polystyrene), and put in place take-back programs.
Assembly Bill 1080 won’t solve the plastic crisis, but it’s a step forward. The money made from this tax will flow back into the overwhelmed and underfunded recycling industry while the new requirements curtail the rising mountains of trash piling up in California landfills. 
What can you do?
While we wait for our lawmakers to fix the broken plastic system, there are ways you can help. Find a Beach Cleanup near you to get involved in the cleanup efforts. The legislation aims to repurpose recyclable materials, but many plastics cannot be recycled. Plastic debris exists in every corner of the ocean and while Assembly Bill 1080 is a step in the right direction, it won’t solve the microplastics issue.
To learn more about the way this pandemic affects plastic consumption check out COVID Refuse Spoils Ocean and stay up to date with our blog for more information on the microplastic crisis.
Author Bio: Maria Bruzhayte is a Los Angeles based writer, animator, and a contributor to the Ocean Blue Project blog.

Image by Tom Fisk