Date of Graduation

Fall 12-11-2019

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


School of Management


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Deneb Karentz


While plastic has become an almost irreplaceable material in modern life, continuous new evidence of its adverse effects on human health and the environment is emerging. Currently there are limited options to address the negative impacts of plastic production and disposal on the environment. Plastic production and distribution creates greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, limited end-of-life waste management options for the growing plastic waste stream place a great burden on local communities and the environment. Among the many products made of plastic, packaging is the largest and fastest-growing sector. Plastic packaging that is multilayered and fused is very commonly used, yet currently there are limited recycling or reuse options. Within this framework, many local and national governments around the globe have implemented legislative tools as well as monetary tools to deal with some of the adverse impacts of plastic on the environment. While fewer countries have standards in place on what type of plastic packaging is acceptable, California might be the first to attempt to address this challenge. California, being one of the largest consumers of plastic packaging globally, is facing challenges as well. While California has been able, until recently, to export most of its plastic packaging waste to other countries to manage, shifting global waste markets, coupled with rising amounts of plastic packaging materials found in the waste stream, has made this difficult. Growing public concern about the handling of plastic waste is challenging California legislators to come up with sound solutions. This paper (1) first reviews the prevalence of different types of plastic packaging material in the California waste stream, (2) analyzes the overall recyclability of the main plastic packaging materials found, (3) discusses whether, if the general methodology proposed by CalRecycle (California Department of Resources Recycling Recovery) were to be used in a Plastic Packing Policy Framework, it would indeed prioritize the problematic and highly prevalent materials, (4) examines what policy options would be most effective given the particular challenge with high-priority materials, and (5) summarizes results. The key findings of the paper suggest that (A) a California Plastic Packaging Framework is necessary to help prioritize materials with high prevalence, high rates of growth, and with no or limited recycling options, and (B) mapping out the best policy options for challenging materials shows that a well-designed package of policies, versus a piecemeal or one-sided solution such as only focusing on increasing recycling rates can be very effective in addressing the long term challenges of plastic packaging.