Across the globe, we’re getting serious about reducing the use of plastic bags, utensils and containers.
Plastic bags are just about everywhere, but their days seem to be increasingly numbered.
As awareness of the dangers of plastic bags continues to rise — from the threat to wildlife to the fact that they aren’t biodegradable — more groups are taking actions to limit their presence.
Of course, the war on plastic bags isn’t new by any stretch. In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban the use of thin plastic bags after it was discovered that a build up of the bags choked the country’s drainage systems during flooding. In the almost 20 years since then, more countries and individual cities have taken action, including taxing the use of the bags or following Bangladesh’s lead and outright banning them.
And the scope of the war is expanding beyond bags. Plastic straws, bottles, utensils and food containers are all fronts in this ongoing battle, as the convenience and low monetary cost of single-use plastic items is outweighed by a desire for a sustainable lifestyle.
Taiwan is coming for bags and straws
The Taiwanese government announced plans to steadily phase out the use of plastic straws, bags, utensils, cups and containers by 2030.
By next year, fast-food chains will no longer be allowed to supply plastic straws for in-store use, meaning no plastic straws for someone having a meal inside the restaurant. By 2020, free plastic straws will be banned from all eating and drinking establishments. By 2025, the public will have to pay for to-go straws, and by 2030, there’ll be a blanket ban on the use of plastic straws entirely.
Other plastic goods, including plastic bags, utensils and food containers will face a similar phase-out process. If a retail company files invoices for uniforms, which many do, according to the Hong Kong Free Press, then that company will no longer be allowed to offer free versions of those products after 2020. While that might seem like a loophole of sorts — “Our employees will no longer have to buy or wear uniforms we provide so we can continue to offer plastic items.” — it’s one that will close by 2030 when another blanket ban on those products will be introduced.
The minister who oversees this program, Lai Ying-ying, emphasized that this is more than just a job for the Taiwanese Environmental Protection Agency; the entire country, he said, needs to rally behind it if it’s to be successful. It’s a daunting challenge as the Taiwanese EPA estimates that a single Taiwanese person uses around an average of 700 plastic bags a year.
The European Union is following a similar path for its 28 member states in an effort to curb the use of plastics that “take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again,” Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, the body responsible for managing the EU’s day-to-operations, told the Guardian in January.
Plenty of countries within the EU have their own plans in place to reduce plastic consumption, but the EU aims to have all packaging on the continent be reusable or recyclable by 2030. But first, they have to decide the best course of action to achieve that end.
The first step is an “impact assessment” to determine the best way to tax the use of single-use plastics. The EU also wants its member states to reduce the use of bags per person from 90 a year to 40 by 2026, to promote easy access to tap water on the streets to reduce the demand for bottled water and to improve states’ ability to “monitor and reduce their maritime litter.”
The next step is a proposal by the European Commission to ban 10 different types of single-use plastics — including cutlery, straws, cotton buds and plates. They said these top 10 plastics make up 70 percent of all litter in the ocean.
“Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food,” Timmermans said in the announcement. “Today’s proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favorite products.”
The United Kingdom, which is still in the process of Brexiting from the EU, likely won’t be subject to whatever regulations the commission devises. However, as MNN’s Matt Hickman reports, there’s a sizable effort underway to reduce it use of plastic.
states, like Florida and Arizona, have banned the ban of plastic bags, while South Carolina is close to doing the same. While that eliminates confusion for sure, it doesn’t actually solve the environmental problem.
Even when a state ban is in effect, that may not be the end-all, be-all answer. California as a state banned the use of plastic bags in grocery stories, retail stores with a pharmacy, food marts and liquor stores in 2016, but local municipalities that had bans in effect prior to Jan. 1, 2015, have beeen allowed to operate under their laws, essentially superseding the state ban. The differences largely come down to the price for a paper bag, however. (The state ban requires a 10-cent charge for a paper bag.)
Banning other plastic items, like straws and utensils, is gaining some steam, but only at the local level. For instance, Seattle’s ban on plastic straws and utensils goes into effect on July 1 in all places that serve food and drinks (plastic bags have been banned in the city since 2011). Some establishments around the city cut out straws in September 2017, when the ban was announced, while other venues, like CenturyLink Field, SafeCo Field, made the switch to compostable straws and utensils before the city’s ban. Indeed, SafeCo recycles or composts 96 percent of its waste.
Restaurants in other cities, including San Diego; Huntington Beach, California; Asbury Park, New Jersey; New York City; Miami; Bradenton, Florida, have pledged to either ban straws entirely, or simply not provide them unless a customer asks for them, according to a June 2017 article in the Washington Post.
As you can see, it’s a patchwork approach to a global problem.