University of California Begins to Phase Out Single-Use Plastics

University of California campuses announced that they will begin to phase out single-use plastics with the goal to eliminate all unnecessary plastics by 2030. This change was brought about by the UC Office of the President and California Public Interest Research Group. The UCs will discontinue plastic bags in retail and dining locations and eventually eliminate single-use plastic food service items and plastic bottles. 

Single-use plastics are plastic items that are used once before they are thrown away or recycled. Common items include straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, plastic bags, and food packaging. According to KPBS, around 300 million tons of plastic each year is globally produced and only half is disposable. Around the world, only 10 percent of plastic items are recycled. Moreover, plastic releases toxic chemicals into food and water supplies when it is breaking down.  

David Phillips, associate vice president for the UC’s Department of Energy and Sustainability, said that, “The persistent environmental damage wrought by plastics on the environment and human health is well-known. With changes in the recycling industry that make it more difficult to reuse plastic products, the clear solution is to phase out single-use plastics so they never enter our waste stream in the first place.”

In accordance with the policy, plastic bags in food service and retail will be removed by Jan. 1, 2021. Single-use plastics, like straws and utensils, will be replaced with compostable or reusable alternatives by July 1, 2021. Dine-in facilities will supply reusable food service items, like plates and cups, for food consumed and to-go locations will provide reusable or compostable options by July 1, 2022. On-campus food services will phase out the sale, purchase, and distribution of single-use plastic beverage bottles by Jan. 1, 2023. UC campuses will be encouraged to install water refilling stations. 

Even though the UCs have had zero waste goals in place since 2008, UC San Diego has had problems due to competition for space, staff turnover, and a lack of regional infrastructure. In 2018, they formed a Zero Waste Working Group of students and staff to tackle these issues; however, as of September 2019, UCSD is not on track to reach 90 percent waste diversion by 2020.  

This policy allows the different UC campuses to decide how to comply with the new regulations. For example, UCLA has decided to develop a new policy to remove single-use plastics from campus food services by July 1. UC Berkeley plans to eliminate all essential single-use plastics by 2030. They plan to replace them not only in foodware, but also in research, administration, events, and campus academics. 

Leslie Sepuka, the Associate Director of University Communications at UCSD, said to The UCSD Guardian that “there are many efforts underway across the UC San Diego campus to lessen the use of single-use plastics. UCSD Housing, Dining and Hospitality has drastically reduced the amount of single-use plastic through the launch of the Triton2Go reusable container program in Fall 2020. Through the replacement of single-use containers with durable and reusable OZZI containers, more than 75,000 single-use containers have been saved to date; the program will eliminate the annual use of more than 2 million single-use plastic containers on campus. Furthermore, paper bags are in use at the Bookstore with reusable ones coming soon. Many of the campus vendors have compostable food containers and none of them use plastic straws or single-use water bottles.”

In 2021, the campus retail vendors hope to eliminate plastic bags and replace all plastic foodware items by July. However, the pandemic has raised several challenges, especially since campus vendors are not allowed to handle a reusable bag from the customer. Some single-use plastics are still used in HDH facilities because of the precautionary measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and because of dietary restrictions. 

The California government is also reducing single-use plastics across the state. The House of Representatives passed two bills in November 2020 that will ban the use of single-use plastics and polystyrene. House Bill 1162 prohibits restaurants and other food retailers from using polystyrene for packaging take-out food by Jan. 1, 2022. House Bill 1163 will eliminate single-use plastics, like straws and plastic bags, in grocery and retail stores on July 1, 2022. 

For more information on the ban, go here.

Artwork courtesy of Andrew Diep for The UCSD Guardian.

3 thoughts on “University of California Begins to Phase Out Single-Use Plastics

  1. Great article, but the cited State of California legislation at the end of the article appears to be Colorado legislation – not California.

  2. Nice article – thank you for it. Great job by the University of California. Living here in Ann Arbor, MI, I can only hope that the University of Michigan can be as progressive.

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