University of California campuses are phasing out single-use plastics as part of a bold commitment to achieve zero waste, furthering its long-established, innovative sustainability efforts and goals. 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. 

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. As part of its zero waste goals, this latest action by the University will focus on food service and retail outlets at all UC campuses and medical centers.

“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 Jan. 1, 2023. To support this change, UC locations are encouraged to install water refill stations.

This systemwide 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. 

“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.

UC students provided valuable input as the University crafted this more environmentally friendly policy. Since August 2019, CALPIRG’s Plastic-Free Seas Campaign has collected more than 12,000 student signatures 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.

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