Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica)

The state senator representing Santa Monica introduced a bill Thursday that seeks to phase out single-use plastics by 2030.

Sen. Ben Allen, who represents the Westside, Hollywood and the South Bay in the California State Senate, announced he will introduce legislation requiring all single-use packaging and products to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030. Senate Bill 54 would also require California to recycle or divert 75 percent of single-use materials. The state currently recycles just 15 percent of single-use plastics.

Santa Monica has already banned disposable food packaging, prohibiting plastic utensils, plates and containers, among other plastic, bio-plastic and aluminum packaging. Businesses must serve food in containers made marine-degradable paper, fiber or wood, although they can use plastic cups and cup lids until 2020 because marine-degradable versions are not yet available.

The ban went into effect Jan. 1 and is meant to protect Santa Monica Bay from plastic pollution and reduce landfilled waste in accordance with the City’s goal to achieve zero waste by 2030.

Allen said Senate Bill 54, which was co-authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) is also targeted at reducing pollution in light of predictions that the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 and the health risks posed by microplastics that make their way into drinking water, soil and food.

Allen’s proposed bill also follows two statewide measures aimed out phasing out plastics: last year’s law requiring businesses to only provide plastic straws on request and a 2014 ban on single-use plastic bags. Both laws were the first of their kind nationwide.

“Californians have voiced their disgust over plastic waste most recently by upholding the plastic bag ban. If you thought people would have rubber-stamped that decision when it was first proposed, people would have said you were crazy,” he said. “But public awareness is now at such a place that people are saying enough is enough, we need to get ahead of this, our children are going to curse us if we don’t do something.”

Allen passed a law last September that requires state facilities to serve food in reusable, recyclable or compostable containers after a bill he introduced to ban styrofoam packaging failed in the state legislature last January under pressure from styrofoam manufacturers. He said he thinks his September law succeeded because it does not single out a particular type of product and is more flexible than his proposed styrofoam law.

He said he aims to use that approach in his promoting his new bill. Allen is stressing that it is not intended to get rid of single-use packaging and is instead trying to create a larger market for reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging. Many such products already exist and the bill would require manufacturers and suppliers to start using them or innovate new products, he said.

“Big players know they will be able to make just as much money producing environmentally friendly products as they do with current ones,” he said. “The way we land this is by giving businesses enough runway to transition and implement policies in a fair, transparent way with a reasonable timeline.”

Allen said he thinks transitioning to green packaging at the state level rather than in local jurisdictions will be less expensive and create a globally relevant market for such products.

“It’s great that Santa Monica is a leader on this stuff, but everyone ought to be in the game now,” he said. “As more and more of the world comes to terms with the plastics crisis, those companies leading the way on more environmentally friendly packing will be more and more in demand around the world, just like our clean energy entrepreneurs here have become global forces around the world following our regulatory push. Similarly, greener packaging can become an important export.”

The California Grocers Association (CGA), a non-profit, statewide trade association that represents over 300 retail members in California and Nevada and 150 grocery supplier companies, opposed Santa Monica’s disposable food packaging ban, contending that usable marine degradable packaging did not yet exist. But CGA’s government affairs director, Aaron Moreno, said the association is looking to work with Allen in crafting Senate Bill 54.

CGA will be pushing for the bill to distinguish between packaging for grocers and restaurants, as restaurant packaging is designed to last for a much shorter time than grocery packaging, Moreno added.

“It’s very encouraging that the senator has laid out a longer timeline for manufacturers to work toward that goal,” Moreno said. “There are a number of companies that make these containers, but to ramp up to the scale California would need would take quite a while.”

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