By: Sophia Matthews
Have you heard about the sperm whale with 64 pounds of plastic debris in its digestive tract? Or seen the footage of the sea turtle with the plastic straw stuck in its nose? Have you heard about China’s ban on imported plastic waste? Have you ever Googled the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be wondering what’s being done around the world to combat the consequences of plastic use. Read below to find out more about a few places around the globe that have adopted plastic policies.
The United Kingdom
In January 2018 the UK announced its ban on plastic microbeads – tiny plastics found in body scrubs, cosmetics, toothpaste, and cleaning products. Small, but far from harmless, these beads are often eaten by marine life and wind up back in the food chain.
The UK also implemented a tax on plastic bags in 2015, which has decreased the total number of plastic bags in circulation by 9 billion. Even Queen Elizabeth has joined the war on plastics – she banned plastic straws and bottles from the Royal Estate in February.
The French followed their ban on the free distribution of single-use plastic bags with a ban of thin produce bags in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The only bags permitted under the new law will be made of corn and potato starches. The French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal estimates these regulations will create 3,000 jobs in France
In January 2020, France will become the first country in the world to ban disposable plastic cups and plates.
With the most recent G7 summit leaving Canadians itching for concrete action with regards to the discussed ocean plastics charter, plastic has become a hot topic across Canada. Though lacking a nation-wide plastic policy, several Canadian cities have taken action at the municipal level to reduce their plastic pollution.
Montreal’s ban on thin plastic bags went into effect in June, and the coastal city of Vancouver has announced its plans to ban plastic straws by the fall of 2018. Retailers in Victoria, BC will no longer be able to provide plastic bags to their customers starting July 2018. Toronto and the province of Prince Edward Island are also considering various plastic policies.
Since August 2017, Kenyans found using, producing, or selling a plastic bag face up to four years in jail or a $40,000 fine. Kenyan Environment Minister Judy Wakhungu cites beef contamination as a problem in Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, reflecting on cows found with as many as 20 plastic bags in their stomachs. The ban is harsh, but effective – while roughly 30% of animals taken to slaughter were once found with plastic bags in their digestive tracts, only one in ten are found with plastic since the introduction of the ban.
Like Canada, the US awaits a national plastics policy. However, as of June 1, Malibu, California has banned the sale, distribution, and use of single-use plastic straws, stirrers, and cutlery. Likewise, the 2017 “Strawless in Seattle” campaign graduated to a full-blown ban on plastic straws and utensils as of July 1.
The Northern Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania have all issued statewide bans on single-use plastic shopping bags, with other Australian states set to follow. Australian supermarkets have announced initiatives to phase-out single-use plastic bags to aid those states that have not yet adopted a policy.
The capital city of New Delhi announced a sweeping ban on all forms of single-use plastic in 2017. The ban was introduced after increased air pollution caused by the mass burning of plastic.
All these policies are steps in the right direction, but not a cause to let our guard down – these policies make but a small dent in the plastic pollution problem. Still, 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flow into the oceans from coastal regions every year. Our plastic production is only increasing – almost half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since the year 2000. Less than ⅕ of all plastic is recycled – Europe has the highest recycling rates…at just 30%. Almost one million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the world. Both the US and Japan refused to sign on to the most recent G7 agreement to reduce plastic waste. It is estimated that there will be more pieces of plastic inhabiting our oceans than fish by 2050.
So, while we applaud these cities and countries for their efforts, let’s not forget how much progress has yet to be made. To learn more about how YOU can become a more environmentally sustainable consumer, check out our blog post.