A ban on tiny shampoo bottles? Stop with the timid gestures, California

First, plastic shopping bags ... then drinking straws ... and now mini shampoo bottles are on the environmental hit list.

A bill making its way through the state Legislature seeks to outlaw those tiny, complimentary plastic bottles of “personal toiletries” like shampoo and conditioner that come standard in just about every hotel room.

Violators would be issued a warning the first time but could be fined $500 for repeat offenses.

It’s a well-meaning gesture. But it’s a timid move that will do little to stop the flood of plastic waste that’s choking the planet.

Mini shampoo bottles are not Plastic Enemy No. 1.

They didn’t even make the Top 10 list of plastic litter collected during the state’s 2018 beach cleanup day. (That distinction belongs to cigarette butts with plastic filters. Food wrappers came in second, and plastic beverage bottles, third.)

There are so many other things to worry about: plastics used in industry, like fishing nets and those giant sheets of plastic used on farm fields; everyday things like plastic water bottles and disposable razors and containers that hold everything from laundry pods to cat treats; and miniature things like, yes, tiny shampoo bottles but also action figures and key chains and pill bottles and sporks and ping-pong balls

But mini shampoo bottles?

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, calls the ban on small plastic bottles “low-hanging fruit,” according to the news website CalMatters. He’s got that right.

There’s nothing wrong with interim measures that have already been passed or are being proposed at both state and local levels, mostly taking aim at particular products.

For instance, the city of San Luis Obispo passed an ordinance last year that bans single-use plastic bottles and cups at Farmers Market, Concerts in the Plaza, and other events on city property. Some vendors reported switching to aluminum cans as a result.

That’s commendable.

But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking those are major achievements when they are actually baby steps.

Let’s not lose our sense of urgency about what it’s going to take to solve this problem of plastic waste that’s littering our highways and byways, filling up our landfills, and threatening our rivers and oceans.

And speaking of oceans, if you think the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — that island of floating junk — is bad news, scientists have discovered that plastics aren’t just floating on top of the sea. There are bits of plastic found deep in the ocean as well.

To use the more scientific language from the June 6 Scientific Reports article from the journal Nature: “... growing evidence demonstrates that plastic is accumulating within the animals, bottom sediments, and trenches of the deep sea.”

This is scary stuff.

It makes the proposed ban on mini shampoos seem pathetically short-sighted and insignificant. (To make matters even worse, there is a giant loophole in the bill: Hotels could still give away the small bottles upon request.)

There is another bill making its way through the Legislature that is far broader and deserves more attention and support.

The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act — the Senate version is SB 54 and the Assembly version is AB 1080 — aims to cut down on plastic waste through source reduction, recycling or composting.

It sets benchmarks to be achieved by manufacturers of single-use plastic packaging and certain plastic products. For example, by 2030, manufacturers would have to demonstrate that 75 percent of their recyclable products are actually being recycled. (It’s estimated that only 14 percent of plastic is currently recycled in California.)

But that’s not enough.

For starters, how about doing something about the closure of recycling facilities in California?

In the past five years, 40 percent of the state’s recycling centers have shut down, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Speaking of recycling, why not raise the deposit on plastic beverage bottles?

It might discourage consumers from buying beverages in plastic bottles in the first place, and encourage more recycling.

And why the long wait for legislation to take effect?

Even the shampoo bottle ban would be phased in over years; hotels with 50 or more rooms would have to comply by 2023, and other lodgings by 2024.

How hard is it to replace individual bottles with larger dispensers like the ones used in gyms?

Or, for that matter, why can’t guests bring their own shampoo and conditioner?

California, for all it’s environmental awareness, is lagging in efforts to cut back on plastic waste.

We cannot afford to wait for government to act.

We have it in our power to reduce consumption of single-use plastics in our homes, our businesses, our day-to-day lives. If we haven’t already used that power, it’s time we did.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune