Chile just banned plastic bags

A new law was just passed on in Chile after a long political debate in regards to plastic pollution. It was an overwhelming support from the politicians as 134 supported the bill and 1 voted against.

The new law is mainly targeting big retailers across all types of industries. However, statistics show that plastic bags from grocery stores is the biggest problem – maybe not a surprise? Retailers with two or more stores will have one year to fully remove plastic bags from their product range. Smaller retailers, like local shops and restaurants, will first be given 2 years to do the same.

3.4 billion Plastic bags annually

The citizens of Chile are using 3400 million plastic bags annually, which equals 200 plastic bags per capita. When we know that the average person only uses a plastic bag for about 12 minutes and that only one out of 200 plastic bags are recycled (global numbers), we know that 3.4 billion bags will have a significant negative impact on our environment.

In addition to that, each plastic bag will take approximately 400 years to degrade. 400 years.

New website

In addition to making sure that all retailers have been carefully warned about the new legislation, the government have created a new website for the public. It is called http://chaobolsasplasticas.cl/en/ and has been set up in order to give the public more information about the new law.

They have also created a video specifically for this campaign. And despite the fact that you might not understand Spanish, I guess you will still get the clear message:

We will just end this article by thanking Chile for making a difference and trying to prevent plastic pollution!

Will USA follow?

You might have already been shocked by the numbers in Chile. 3.4 billion plastic bags annually is an awful lot. In order to get the same number in USA, you would have to multiply the number by 100. More than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are being consumed in the US market every year – making plastic pollution to possibly the biggest threat to wildlife and the nature in North America.

Good read: EU wants to ban all unnecessary disposable plastic items

When we also know that around 80 % of all the bags being sold/given in American grocery stores are made out of plastic, we can just imagine how big of an environmental impact it would give if the American government copied the new law in Chile. Over the last years we have seen that many of the big American companies have started to invest in more environmentally friendly packaging and operations, but that has mainly been forced by a demand among their customers – and not by government regulations.

Kenya – the perfect example of a successful plastic ban

Not a lot of people know this, but Kenya is the country with the strictest plastic rules in the world. Historically, African countries have not been seen as very good at environmentally friendly innovation. Especially not when it comes to policy implementation. However, Kenya proved the world wrong.

Kenya implemented a full ban on all plastic bags in late 2017. Writing this in late 2018, we now have a year to review how successful their new policy is. What has changed? What has worked? What didn’t work?

What has improved in Kenya since the plastic bag ban?

A year is enough to see good progress when implementing strict environmental rules. There are a lot of scientists out there that are saying that we got less than 10 year to change the way we live in order to save the earth. Well, guess what. Kenya just proved that we can see significant improvements in less than a year.

Here are some of the main achievements:

– Studies show that less microplastics can be found in the food.
– Animals are no longer found with huge plastic pieces in their stomach. It has been a huge problem globally that animals suffer due to the fact that they are confused by plastic pollution. Some of them eat them by accident, but many mistake them for fish or bugs.

– Many neighboring countries have started to consider a similar ban. Government officials from Uganda and Tanzania have already said that they will try to implement a plastic bag ban in their country.

Are anyone complaining?

Well, the plastic bag industry surely did. The first argument to remove such a ban is to protect people from losing their jobs. And fair enough: the plastic bag industry do have about 200,000 people employed globally.

Needless to say, the new policy hit hard on an industry that was quite huge in Kenya previously.

A great illustration of how dependent people are on plastic bags is what happened in July 2017. Several men were brought in by the police and later jailed due to something that was previously not considered a criminal offense. Well, what did they do?

Sell plastic bags on the black market.

These sellers had seen that certain people in Kenya really struggled to go on with their lives without their beloved plastic. That led to the development of a completely new criminal industry that (illegally) imported and sold the bags in cities like Nairobi, Kisii and Keroka.

In addition to that, some people meant that everything happened to suddenly. Poor people will be the ones that struggle unless there are already good, cheap alternatives out on the market. As the Kenyan government did not give a warning long before the policy was implemented, a lot of people missed out. Small businesses that previously offered plastic bags to their customers suddenly were in a rush to replace them with more expensive carrier bags, etc.

Can we expect the same outcome in Chile as we have seen in Kenya?

Hopefully. Despite being on different continents, these countries do have some things in common. First of all, they are still developing. Secondly, historically they have both had a pretty big domestic plastic industry – until now. In addition to that, they do have governments that are willing to sacrifice some economic development for a greener future.

Let us hope that Chile can move the environmental development forward in South America and influence other countries to take this important step towards less plastic pollution. After all, there are loads of good replacements out there. No need to stick with single-use plastic items anymore.

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