Even before California passed a ground-breaking law requiring all plastics be recyclable or compostable by 2032, Cal Poly students were exploring more sustainable packaging alternatives, professors said “We need professionals who understand the profound implications of their design decisions,” said Javier de la Fuente, who chairs the Industrial Technology and Packaging area in the Orfalea College of Business. “I repeat this to my students all the time.” And, he added, more legislation will be needed to make a difference. “The regulations of one state are clearly insufficient to solve challenges that do not recognize borders,” de la Fuente said. “More policies will be needed to have a real effect.”
When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 54, Solid Waste: Reporting, Packaging and Plastic Food Service Ware, into effect June 30, his office noted that this legislation became law after the U.S. Supreme Court limited the federal government’s ability to address pollution and climate change. The law vows to cut plastic packaging by 25 percent in 10 years and requires 65 percent of all single-use packaging to be recycled in the same timeframe.
Since the 1950s, the use of plastic has increased exponentially — particularly in the past 20 years — according to “The Plastic Economy,” a 2021 research paper co-authored by Cal Poly economics professor Jacqueline Doremus. According to that research, plastic production is expected to reach four times the current levels in 2050. In many ways, plastic has improved modern life. It protects medical devices, allow cars to be lighter and more fuel efficient, and keeps food fresh.