Bubble wrap, air pillows, styrofoam peanuts, and other single-use plastics placed in e-commerce packages would have to be reduced throughout California under a bill pending in the legislature.
Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s (D) AB 2026 would require online retailers to reduce plastic packaging materials by weight and number from 2023 levels by 2030. The reduction amount hasn’t been determined yet, but will be set when lawmakers meet in August.
“We have a real problem and e-shipping is one of the low-hanging fruits of plastic pollution,” Friedman said. “The plastic that is used to ship products is all single-use plastic—it has no other use. As soon as it’s used, it’s discarded.”
The bill died in the Assembly last year, but was advanced by the chamber this year in a vote of 41-26. It now awaits a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. If approved by the committee and full Senate, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would have until Aug. 31 to sign it before the state legislative session ends.
California already took a big step in plastics reduction after enacting SB 54 in June. That law requires producers to reduce single-use plastics packaging by at least 25%, by both weight and height, by 2032.
Sponsors of AB 2026 say the bill could advance SB 54 by requiring online producers to lead the reduction. But opponents say enacting another plastic bill is unnecessary.
First in Nation
If successful, AB 2026 would make California the first in the nation to limit e-commerce plastic packaging for items shipped into and throughout the state, except food and medication products. The bill applies to e-commerce shippers that have an annual gross sale greater than $15 million in or into the state and more than 100 full-time-equivalent employees.
California producers already are required to meet a plastics reduction target through SB 54, but there’s an opportunity for online retailers to take the lead through AB 2026, said Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California.
“This bill is a really big opportunity for us to take a meaningful step forward in reducing this unnecessary, single-use plastic waste,” she said.
Single-use plastics have increased since the rise of online shopping during the pandemic.
The company has since cut plastic packaging in India and Germany and replaced it with paper cushions, paper envelopes, and corrugated cardboard boxes.
Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPirg and another supporter of the bill, said it’s possible for California to reduce plastics in packaging after other countries have done it.
Not Needed, Opponents Say
The American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents chemical manufacturers, said the bill isn’t necessary and that SB 54 should be implemented appropriately before adding another requirement for packaging materials.
“Simply restricting materials is frankly a short-sighted approach. It doesn’t really take into account some of the other environmental tradeoffs,” said Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs for the organization.
A coalition of retailers and businesses said it was concerned about the potential for damaged packages due to less plastic protection, adding that the damage could result in more fuel usage to handle back-and-forth shipping.
“Some products require a higher level of protection that only certain packaging like expanded polystyrene can provide,” Adam Regele, senior policy advocate for California Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
EPS Industry Alliance, an organization of polystyrene manufacturers, originally opposed AB 2026, but now supports it after Friedman amended the bill to require a plastics reduction instead of elimination.
“This approach is looking at first steps,” said Betsy Steiner, the group’s executive director. “If our society ends up in a situation where we have to ban things, I would hope that is the last solution that’s explored, not the first.”