UC moves to scrap single-use plastics

Following a student-run campaign, the UC’s commitment will significantly reduce plastic pollution in California

-For Immediate Release-


  • For more information:
    • University of California Office of the President, UCOP Media Relations: (510) 987-9200 or [email protected]
    • Veronika Michels, CALPIRG Students Campus Organizer, [email protected], (714)-323-2020
  • For interviews:
    • Valerie Nguyen, Chairperson for CALPIRG Students at UC Berkeley, [email protected], (408) 410-0689

OAKLAND — University of California campuses will start phasing-out single-use plastics, paving the way for campuses free of non-essential plastics by 2030, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and CALPIRG Students announced jointly today. The new policy will transition UC away from plastic bags in retail and dining locations and eventually eliminate single-use plastic food service items and plastic bottles, helping to reduce the production of plastic pollution in California and prevent microplastics from contaminating waterways.  

“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. 

CALPIRG Students worked closely with the UCOP in crafting the new policy. The Plastic-Free Seas Campaign collected more than 12,000 student signatures over the past year and sponsored resolutions with the UC Student Association and local student government on several UC campuses to support phasing out non-essential, single-use plastic on all UC campuses.

Given its significant purchasing power and size, this major initiative underscores UC as an even more impactful environmental leader, advocating for less plastic pollution and fewer landfills. UC researchers have shown that plastics can have a significant impact on the environment as only a small fraction of such products, especially single-use items, are recycled.

“The persistent environmental damage wrought by plastics on the environment and human health is well-known,” said David Phillips, associate vice president for UC’s Department of Energy and Sustainability. “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.” 

UC researchers have shown that plastics can have a significant impact on the environment as only a small fraction of such products, especially single-use items, are recycled. 

The timetable for the policy is as follows:

  • Plastic bags in retail and food service establishments will be eliminated by Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Single-use plastic dining accessories (e.g., straws, utensils, stirrers) will be eliminated and replaced with local compostable or reusable alternatives by July 1, 2021, with exceptions for accessibility needs.
  • Dine-in facilities will provide reusable food service items (e.g., plates, cups, clamshell containers) for food consumed on site by July 1, 2022, and to-go facilities will provide reusable or locally compostable alternatives.
  • Campus food service operations will phase out the purchase, sale and distribution of single-use plastic beverage bottles by January 1, 2023. To support this change, UC locations are encouraged to install water refill stations.
  • In addition, the policy directs campuses to make plans to get their campuses to be free of non-essential plastics by 2030.

This system-wide policy allows campuses to decide how to tailor the implementation of these changes to the location-based needs of their food establishments and retail services. As examples, UC Berkeley has already enacted a wider-reaching local policy to eliminate all non-essential, single-use plastics by 2030 while UCLA is finalizing a policy with earlier implementation. CALPIRG Student leaders worked with both UC Berkeley and UCLA on their policies.

The California Legislature is currently considering legislation that would similarly tackle California’s plastic pollution problem. The Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (SB 54 and AB 1080) would reduce plastic waste in California by 75% and require all single-use plastics to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. 

“Today’s announcement by the UC’s to phase out disposable plastics, is a testament to both California’s leadership and the tenacity of these students who continue to prove that not only is progress possible, but we have a duty to keep pushing for the change we want to see,” said Senator Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica. “SB 54 and AB 1080 will tackle plastic statewide, finally requiring businesses to do their part and take responsibility for the plastic packaging they are placing on the market – so we can to turn the tide and reduce the amount of plastic waste piling up in our communities.”

Roughly two-thirds of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment and remains there in some form. As these items fragment into smaller particles, known as microplastics, they concentrate toxic chemicals and increasingly contaminate our food and drinking water sources. Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, table salt, fish, shellfish, and agricultural soils. 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 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,” finished Haynes. “Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our future for hundreds of years.”

For more information on UC’s sustainability efforts, go here.