Plastic bag in ocean

Chile to become first country in Americas with plastic bag ban

Image credit: Dreamstime

Chile’s Senate has voted to ban shops from handing out plastic bags throughout the country, extending the reach of previous policies limiting their use.

In 2017, former president Michelle Bachelet announced legislation to ban plastic bags in coastal towns, in order to reduce the amount of plastic collecting in the oceans. According to the Association of Plastic Industries (Asipla), Chileans use more than 3.4bn plastic bags per year (more than 200 per person per year), with each bag getting less than 30 minutes of use. 97 per cent of these bags end up in landfills, oceans or are dumped illegally. Biodegradable shopping bags are not widely available in Chile.

While there were already 58 communes in Chile with some plastic bag regulations, this ban will be applied nationally. Before the ban can enter force, it must pass through its third stage: through the lower chamber of congress (the Chamber of Deputies).

Its passage has been overseen by Bachelet’s successor, President Sebastián Piñera, who commented on Twitter: “The law was passed today #ChaoBolsasPlásticas [#ByePlasticBags]. We have taken a fundamental step for better care of Chile and the planet. Today we are better prepared to bequeath a better country to our children, grandchildren and generations to come.”

Meanwhile, Marcela Cubillos, the minister for the environment, called for a cultural change in how Chileans shop and reuse bags in order to reduce unnecessary waste.

The ban is expected to enter force in six months’ time for larger retailers and in two years’ time for small and medium-sized businesses. Until then, shops must continue to adhere to a rule limiting them to giving out just two plastic bags per purchase.

While the policy will render Chile the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags, Costa Rica is set to ban single-use plastics by 2021.

Studies estimate that every year, eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans and by 2050, there could be a greater mass of plastic than fish in the oceans. This plastic takes centuries to disintegrate, and the extent of the environmental damage due to plastic pollution is not well understood. However, the Sea Turtle Conservancy estimates that over 100 million marine mammals alone are killed by plastic pollution.

Earlier this week, the EU announced that it would be banning the most common single-use plastic items in addition to a series of other measures to severely reduce the amount of plastic waste reaching the oceans from EU member states.

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