Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 4-27-2021


recycling, regulations, environment, environmental policy, plastic, ordinance law, ecosystems, santa monica, california, waste, litter, pollution


Plastic is a cheap, robust and versatile material with numerous practical uses that contribute to the convenience of modern day life. However the very same properties that make it uniquely diverse and hardy also contribute to the hazards it poses to the ecosystems and human health. If current consumption and manufacturing practices remain unchanged, there will be hundreds of millions of additional tons of plastic introduced into the environment over the coming decades. To mitigate this issue, some cities, such as Santa Monica, have implemented ordinances and policies directly aimed at this growing problem, albeit with ambiguous results. To better understand the relationship between waste reduction and local ordinances, the City of Santa Monica was selected as a case study for this topic.

This study specifically analyzed descriptive quantitative data according to yearly trendlines in debris collection and recycled plastic tonnage reports as well as a comprehensive list of California plastic ordinances to determine if any correlation or causation existed between plastic regulations at the municipal level and waste/litter quantities. Additionally, interviews with city officials and recycling experts were also conducted to provide further insights into city policies and their perceived outcomes.

After extensive analysis, only a significant reduction in plastic straws and stirrers could be established from the years 2015-2019. There were some decreases in plastic takeout containers, cups and plates in and around Santa Monica, but their trendlines were nearly flat. Furthermore, the interviews with policy and recycling experts yielded four major common themes regarding plastic ordinances: Impact of Regulations from State and Federal Legislation, the Lack of Incentives in a circular economy for plastics, the need for increased Producer Responsibilities, and more emphasis on Educating the Public in terms of plastic recycling, reuse and reduction methods.

Consequently, while local ordinances do have a limited influence on plastic waste reduction, a more comprehensive solution will entail a unified effort at the state, federal and international levels if significant results are to be achieved. The most likely path to significant results are polices that create and foster a circular economy for plastics such as minimum content laws.