Single-use plastics are contributing to the mammoth amount of plastic waste mounting up in landfill sites, littering the countryside and cities, and floating in the oceans in ever-increasing quantities. Luckily, some governments around the globe are starting to do something about this massive accumulation of waste that’s choking our planet.
Every year, according to the nonprofit Plastic Oceans, 150 million tons of single-use plastics are produced, and 500 billion plastic water bottles are used. In addition, 550 million plastic straws are discarded daily in just the U.S. and U.K. And one trillion plastic bags are thrown out every year. Thankfully, some governments are starting to take action. Notably, the European Union, Canada, and New Zealand are among those that are trying to make a difference.
New Zealand banned single-use plastic shopping bags on July 1, 2019. The ban includes bags that are labelled as biodegradable and compostable. The reason is those plastics cannot be composted effectively in home composting systems, and if deposited in landfills, they can produce methane gas. Instead, consumers are strongly encouraged to carry their own reusable bags.
In Canada, the federal government has declared the intention of banning single-use plastics, such as grocery bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks, in 2021. They also intend to make manufacturers responsible for their plastic waste.
The Canadian government projects that this ban “can reduce 1.8 million tons of carbon pollution, generate billions of dollars in revenue, and create approximately 42,000 jobs.”
Some provinces have already enacted legislation to ban plastic bags, and private businesses have started to eliminate plastic bags ahead of the countrywide ban. The Canadian grocery store chain Sobeys removed all plastic bags from their 255 stores on January 31, 2020.
The most impactful ban is one that’s being contemplated by the European Union, which will involve 26 countries with a total population of 446 million. By 2021, plastic products, including cutlery and plates, straws, and plastic cotton Q tips will be banned, as well as oxo-degradable plastics and expanded polystyrene cups.
Although the United Kingdom has officially left the EU, it’s also proceeding with bans on most of the same products starting in April 2020.
Unfortunately, the United States government currently has no plans to move towards a similar ban. Some states, including Hawaii, California, and New York, have banned certain types of single-use plastics, and cities and towns in other states across the country following suit. However, 17 states, including Florida and Texas, have actually have passed laws forbidding plastics bans.
It’s encouraging to see the move towards a more responsible use of plastics by some countries, but there’s a long way to go before the plastic grocery bag, let alone other single-use plastics, is a historical artifact rather than roadside litter.