End Plastics

End Plastic Pollution: Leading anti-plastic legislation in the U.S.

This month is Plastic Free July: 31 days to take a stand against harmful waste and toxic pollutants. 

We here at EARTHDAY.ORG have committed to End Plastic Pollution. We are spreading awareness about the harmful impacts that plastic can have on the environment and our health. We hope to change human attitudes about and behavior toward plastics and reduce plastic pollution. As a nation, we won’t be truly independent until we have freed ourselves from plastic pollution.

Currently, in the United States, there are no federal regulations restricting single-use plastic; in fact, a third of the US has laws preventing plastic bans. Fortunately, several states and cities in the United States have regulations or acts that restrict or ban the use of single-use plastic products, mainly plastic shopping bags, grocery bags, and plastic straws. 

Here are four of the country’s leading pieces of anti-plastic legislation that we can all learn from and build upon this July: 

  • California 

In 2014, California enacted Senate Bill 270, making it the first state to pass legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. Since 2014, California has expanded and improved its anti-plastic legislation. On June 16, 2022, Sen. Bill Allen published a bill proposal that would reduce single-use plastic products by 25%. The bill would not only ensure that 65% of single-use products are recycled by 2032, an expansion from the current level of about 10%, but would also transform how companies package and ship their products. This bill could eliminate plastic pollution at the production level, not just the consumption or distribution level. 

  • Vermont 

Vermont’s Senate Bill 113 is the most comprehensive single-use plastic ban in the United States. The Senate gave final approval in 2019 with a 30-0 vote and it became effective on July 1, 2020. The bill tackles the three largest single-use plastic pollutants: plastic bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene (EPS). Single-use plastic bags are banned, customers can only use paper bags at a charge, straws are only available at the customer’s request, and food service providers are entirely prohibited from distributing EPS containers. 

  • New Jersey 

As recently as May 4, 2022, New Jersey law P.L. 2020, c117 has prevented stores and food service businesses from providing customers with single-use plastic or paper bags. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law in November of 2020, but it has just now taken effect. Under the new law, polystyrene foam food service products and foods sold or provided in polystyrene foam food service products will also be prohibited. However, they will be exempt until 2024. The New Jersey Department of State and the Department of Environmental Protection have developed online resources to help businesses prepare for the transition. 

  • Washington D.C. 

As the nation’s capital, DC serves as an example for the rest of the country. In 2010, under Bill 2010 B 150, Washington D.C. was the first to enforce a tax on plastic bags. This bill protects the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia, bans the use of disposable non-recyclable plastic carryout bags, establishes a fee on all other disposable carryout bags provided by certain retail stores, and establishes the recurring Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. As of January 1, 2022, restaurants in the DMV can only hand out disposable utensils, plastic straws, and napkins upon request. Sustainable DC 2.0 is a city-wide initiative under Mayor Bowser that lays out distinct targets, goals, and action plans to combat climate change. Check out the section entitled Waste to learn more! 

Legislation and regulation will be the key to ending the plastic-pollution epidemic. Our local, state, and federal government officials must continue creating anti-plastic legislation and regulating corporations and companies. 

In the meantime, there are plenty of steps you can take as an individual to rid the world of plastics: