The University of California announced this week an updated plastics policy that aims to phase out single-use plastics over the next 10 years to pave the way for campuses to be free of nonessential plastics by 2030.

CALPIRG (California Public Interest Research Group) launched the Plastic-Free Seas campaign in the fall of 2019 to focus on getting the UC system to take action against plastic pollution.

Roughly two-thirds of plastic ever produced has been released into the environment and remains there in some form, according to Eileen DiPofi, the CALPIRG student campus organizer for UC Santa Barbara.

Smaller plastic particles concentrate toxic chemicals and increasingly contaminate sources of food and drinking water. DiPofi noted that experts agree that upstream reduction of packaging and packaging waste is the most effective and least expensive way to protect human, wildlife and environmental health.

“The new UC policy is a huge step in addressing plastic pollution by reducing the use and production of single-use plastics,” said Valerie Ngyuen, chairwoman for CALPIRG at UC Berkeley.

“We know that the UCs care a lot about sustainability and that the students wanted to see more action towards combating plastic pollution,” said Veronika Michels, CALPIRG student campus organizer. “We have brought in student voices to develop this policy and are really excited that the UCs are taking action and making the policy update.”

Updates to the policy put the UCs on a 10-year path to meet their goal of eliminating nonessential plastics. Plastic bags in retail and food service will be eliminated by Jan. 1, and single-use plastic dining accessories will be eliminated and replaced with local compostable or reusable alternatives by July 1, 2021.

Under the new policy, dine-in campus facilities will provide reusable plates, cups and containers for food consumed on site, and to-go facilities will provide reusable or locally compostable alternatives by July 1, 2022.

Campus food service programs are to phase out the purchase, sale and distribution of single-use plastic beverage bottles by Jan. 1, 2023, and the UCs are encouraged to install water refill stations to support this change.

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

CALPIRG worked with chapters on eight campuses to collect 12,000 student signatures and nearly 100 student leader sign-ons. The UC system was responsive to this initiative, Michels said, and CALPIRG students worked closely with the UC Office of the President to craft the new policy.

“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 Nicole Haynes, CALPIRG’s statewide Plastic-Free Seas coordinator.

The updated policy also directs campuses to make additional plans to get their campus to be free of nonessential plastics in the 10-year time period. The system-wide policy allows campuses to decide how to tailor the implementation of the changes based on the location needs of their food establishments and retail services.

The UC policy is similar to state legislation being considered, which is also aimed at tackling California’s plastic pollution problem. If passed, the Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act would aim to reduce plastic waste in California by 75 percent and require all single-use plastics to be recyclable or compostable by 2032.

“We hope the UCs lead the way in inspiring the state and other universities to make similar commitments to protect the environment,” Nguyen said.

“The new policy from the UCs is a huge achievement for the environment, and now we are calling on the Legislature to follow suit by passing the Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act,” Haynes said. “Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our future for hundreds of years.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.