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University of California campuses to phase out single-use plastics, including cups and water bottles

While some efforts to restrict the use of single-use plastics have been stalled by the pandemic, the University of California has announced an aggressive policy to phase out such waste at its 10 campuses and five medical centers.

The plan calls for an end to the use of plastic bags at UC retail and food establishments by January, an end to plastic straws and utensils by next July, and a switch to reusable plates, cups and food containers by July 2022. The sale and distribution of plastic beverage bottles are to be phased out by 2023, and locations will be encouraged to install water-refill stations.

“Students are more conscious than ever of the consumption of plastic and its negative impact on our environment and public health, so we’re thrilled that our institution, which has so much purchasing power in California, is taking major steps to eliminate single-use plastic,” said UC Berkeley graduate Nicole Haynes, CALPIRG’s statewide Plastic-Free Seas coordinator, in an emailed statement.

California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, a public interest advocacy group, collected more than 12,000 student signatures in its push for the policy, with representatives of its student chapter joining UC officials in announcing the new policy Monday, Aug.24. The UC campuses host just over a half million students, faculty and staff, according to UC spokesman Stett Holbrook.

With China and other overseas recyclers no longer accepting many plastics from the U.S., it’s estimated that only 15% of the state’s single-use plastics are recycled. The rest end up in landfills, along roads and in the ocean.

“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,” said David Phillips, associate vice president for UC’s Department of Energy and Sustainability.

The county of Los Angeles is among local governments that have put the brakes on plans to restrict the use of single-use plastics because of the novel coronavirus. County officials had been developing a comprehensive plastics policy until the pandemic hit, when they decided it was a poor time to engage struggling restaurants with plans for new regulations.

While UC campuses aren’t seeing their usual foot traffic and demand for single-use plastics during the pandemic, the country has seen a spike in single-use products because of the increase in carryout food. In California, restaurants are exempt from the statewide plastic bag ban, contributing to the growth in waste.

Environmentalists are lobbying in favor of a state bill that would require single-use packaging and products to be recyclable or compostable by 2032, and require a 75% reduction of single-use waste by that year.

Parallel measures in the state Senate and Assembly calling for such changes stalled in last year’s session, and must be approved by both houses by Monday, Aug. 31, in order to be considered by the governor for final approval this year. According to environmental lobbyist Dan Jacobson, Gov. Gavin Newsom said last year he was eager for the bills to reach his desk.

Source: Orange County Register

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