A surfer walks along the shore of a beach carrying a surf board, with large amounts of trash strewn on the sand in the foreground.
Surfer on trash strewn beach. © Jason Childs

Stories in California

It’s Now or Forever

Let’s stop the flow of plastic waste.

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The production and incineration of plastics is a major contributor to climate change. Plastic waste is also choking our waterways, polluting our oceans, killing wildlife and infiltrating our food supply. If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in our landfills or polluting the environment by 2050—the equivalent of almost 80 million blue whales.

As the scale of the plastic problem continues snowballing, we must work quickly to take bold and decisive actions to turn the tide on plastic waste. TNC is making progress in the fight against plastic waste in California and around the world through scientific research, technological innovation and bold policy solutions. Learn more about our work as well as what you can do to join the fight. 

Plastic pollution by the numbers:

  • 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year

    8

    million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year

  • 530 marine species have been impacted by plastics in our oceans

    530

    marine species have been impacted by plastics in our oceans

  • 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year

    300

    million tons of plastic are produced every year

  • 50% of global plastic is discarded after a single-use and can take centuries to break down in the marine environment

    50%

    of plastic produced is discarded after a single use

Join the fight

Despite the challenge before us, we have some easy steps that you can take today to help fight plastic pollution.

  • Your vote is your voice: Your vote is one of the most powerful tools for change. Thank you to the over 870,000 California voters who signed on to qualify the “Plastics Free California Initiative” for the 2022 ballot. If qualified and then approved by voters, California will take important steps to reduce plastic pollution, increase recycling and restore and protect nature that has been impacted by plastic pollution. Learn more about the Plastics Free California Ballot Initiative below, as well as other state plastics bills that your state representatives can support.

    Reduce your own plastic use: Eight of the 10 most common items found in beach cleanups are single-use food-related items. Whenever possible, say “no” to single-use plastic foodware items by bringing your own reusable items and supporting local businesses that are going plastic-free. Learn more about how to reduce your plastic footprint.

  • Participate in cleanup efforts: Help keep our oceans and coastlines pristine by starting your own cleanup or joining an existing one. The California Coastal Commission organizes an annual Coastal Cleanup Day. TNC also offers events throughout the year to keep our oceans and coastlines pristine.

How You Can Help

Scroll through these photos to learn some easy steps that you can take today to help fight plastic pollution.

Reusable Coffee Mugs
Trash pick up
Reusable Water Bottle
Pantry with Glass Jars
Reusable Silverware

What TNC is Doing to Drastically Reduce Plastic Pollution 

All phases of the plastic life cycle—from creation to consumption to disposal to cleanup—present opportunities to reduce waste and better protect the environment. TNC is rapidly investing our efforts in three critical areas to drastically reduce plastic pollution:  

  • Scientific research to develop a better understanding of key aspects of the plastics problem

  • Technology and design thinking to create new solutions to plastics waste 

  • High impact policy to reduce plastic flows

Plastic: It's Now or Forever Hear how TNC is advancing research aimed at understanding key aspects of the problem, driving high-impact policy to reduce plastic flows, and leveraging technology and design-thinking to create new solutions. We also share some easy lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce plastic pollution.

Tackling Plastics with Science and Innovation  

TNC is taking a partner-based and science-driven approach to prove out the next generation of high-impact innovations and business models to reduce plastic use, improve waste infrastructure and better track and remove plastic from marine systems here in California and around the globe. 

TNC’s foundational science efforts are aimed at:

  • Filling key data gaps to better monitor plastic flows here in California

  • Improving methods to capture plastic microfibers that impact marine species and the quality of our fisheries 

  • Reducing plastic pollution associated with fishing activities

TNC also plans to leverage new technologies and business models to reduce plastic consumption and pollution while incentivizing the protection and restoration of healthy oceans. As a first step, we launched a new partnership with the design firm, IDEO, to prioritize our efforts to address ocean plastic pollution in areas where we have the potential to make the greatest impact.   

TNC is working with IDEO to convene a diverse group of experts to explore and develop transformative solutions for reducing plastic pollution.
PLASTICS THINK TANK TNC is working with IDEO to convene a diverse group of experts to explore and develop transformative solutions for reducing plastic pollution. © IDEO

Bold Policy Solutions

While California has a history of leading the country in environmental policy, we have really just begun to address plastics pollution in our state. In order to accelerate our efforts, TNC is working with state lawmakers to advance ambitious and effective policy solutions to increase the pace and scale of plastic solutions throughout California. Here are some important policy actions we are currently working on:

  • Plastic Pollution Reduction Policies - With less than 10% of plastic waste getting recycled, we know a critical part of the solution is supporting legislation that encourages the reduction of plastic waste before it is created. TNC has been actively engaging on and supporting bills in the California State Legislature that support statewide reductions in waste generated from single-use plastic packaging and foodware and improve data reporting requirements for retailers to better track progress towards state waste reduction goals. 

  • Plastics Free California Ballot Initiative - We met our goal! A big thanks to the over 870,000 California voters who signed on to qualify the “Plastics Free California Initiative'' for the 2022 ballot. If qualified and then approved by voters, plastics manufacturers would be charged a 1-cent tax on plastics packaging and foodware to go towards restoration of oceans, rivers and beaches, as well as innovations in plastic recycling and composting. The initiative would also require all single-use plastic packaging be recyclable or compostable by 2030.

Proposed plastic reduction policies in the California legislature combined with the Plastics Free California Ballot Initiative can work together to dramatically reduce plastic pollution in our state. These measures would make all plastic packaging truly recyclable or compostable, change how items are packaged and reduce the production of single-use plastics.

Oceans Program Director, Tom Dempsey, and External Affairs Policy Associate, Isabella Gonzalez Potter, visit the CA State Capitol to advocate for plastic free policies.
PLASTIC FREE ADVOCACY Oceans Program Director, Tom Dempsey, and External Affairs Policy Associate, Isabella Gonzalez Potter, visit the CA State Capitol to advocate for plastic free policies. © TNC

A Plastic Free Future

Global change is required to tackle the global plastics crisis, but there is reason to be hopeful. We have seen California leadership on plastics spark some progress across the nation. California straw-upon-request and plastic bag ban policies  scaled to states across the country. However, California must continue to take more progressive and comprehensive steps to remain an international leader in the effort to reduce plastic flows - we simply cannot afford to wait while our plastic problems continue to grow and escalate. 

Plastics pollution solutions will require tremendous innovation and a fundamental rethinking of many aspects of our current economy. As TNC is building solutions in California, we will simultaneously amplify our impact by collaborating with our colleagues around the world to make these solutions happen at scale. By working together we can ensure that future generations do not inherit an ocean choked with plastic. We must act now—our oceans are worth it.

300 million tons of plastic are produced each year.
DROWNING IN PLASTIC 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year. © TNC