As the world slowly wakes up to the scale of the plastic pollution problem, an increasing number of countries and cities are introducing bans on certain products. Not only can they help to prevent plastics from entering marine ecosystems, but they’re also addressing the myth that we can recycle our way out of the problem.
Besides the fact that of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced between 1950 and 2015, only 9% has been recycled, many of the plastic products manufactured today are not actually recyclable.
DW takes a look at some of the latest bans that could help to stem the flow.
European Union: Single-use plastics
Disposable cutlery, glasses, plates and plastic cotton buds are among a selection of single-use plastics that were outlawed in March following a vote in the European Parliament. To be fully implemented in 2021, the ban is based on the EU’s single-use plastics directive and aims to “tackle marine litter coming from the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches.”
In June, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that 570,000 tons of plastic waste ends up in the Mediterranean alone each year — equivalent to dumping 33,800 plastic bottles into the sea every minute.
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Part of an EU strategy on plastics aimed at ensuring all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030, the single-use ban does not cover ubiquitous plastic bags or bottles. The bloc, however, says it will address plastic bottles separately, and aims to be collecting and recycling 90% of them within the next decade.
Vanuatu: World first diaper ban
The tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu, which is already feeling the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis as a result of rising seas, is also overburdened with plastic waste. Having imposed a strict ban on plastic bags, straws and polystyrene containers in July 2018, and expanding it to include items such as plastic plates, cups, stirrers, food containers this year, the island nation has now introduced a ban on disposable diapers, arguably the first of its kind in the world.
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With throw-away nappies made from a combination of plastic and wood pulp, they end up in landfill for a few hundred years. “Vanuatu is safeguarding its future. Eventually, plastics find their way into the water and the food chain,” said Mike Masauvakalo from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the ban was announced in June. With the nation also running out of landfill space, parents will now be forced to use washable cloth diapers, just like in the old days.
Canada: Bottles, bags and more
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he drew direct inspiration from the EU parliament when he announced a similar single-use plastics ban this month. Due to come into effect in 2021, it will be even more far-reaching than its European counterpart, with shopping bags and water bottles also among the gamut of products to be consigned to history. Canada estimates that it uses around 15 billion plastic bags annually, and roughly 57 million plastic straws daily, yet less than 10% of this plastic is recycled.
Trudeau especially focused on the plastic blight on Canada’s coastlines, which at around 202,000 kilometers (126,000 miles), are the longest in the world. “It’s tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam packed with plastic bags?” Trudeau said, adding that plastic can be found at the “very deepest point of the Pacific Ocean.”
Bali: Bye bye plastic bags
Launched in 2013 by teen sisters, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, an initiative called Bye Bye Plastic Bags helped lobby the authorities in Bali to pass a single-use plastic ban introduced on the island this month. The new regulations on plastic bags, straws and polystyrene were hailed by young supporters of the local plastic-free movement who have witnessed their once pristine coasts become clogged with discarded plastic trash. “A paradise lost. Bali: Island of garbage,” was how Melati described the situation during a 2016 TED talk.
“Supermarkets and restaurants on the island have already started preparing by changing back to more traditional ways of packaging,” Bye Bye Plastic Bags said after the ban came into effect. “Has anyone seen the banana leaf wraps?”
The legislation will be implemented down through to local village and traditional law level, and forms part of Indonesia’s National Plan of Action on managing marine plastic debris to reduce ocean plastics by 70% by 2025.
Tanzania: Plastic pushers fined or do time
Following plastic bag bans in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Tunisia, Tanzania is the latest African nation to outlaw the single-use polluter. The new law, like some others on the continent, is fairly draconian with those found selling or manufacturing them facing up to two years in jail, or a €357,000 ($400,000) fine. People caught using them face smaller fines.
The phasing out of non-biodegradable plastics not only applies to the production, import, sale and use of all single-use plastic bags; visitors to Tanzania are also being asked to “surrender” any such bags before entering the country, home to iconic destinations like Mount Kilimanjaro. “We are happy,” WWF Tanzania director Amani Ngusaru said after the ban was introduced. “It takes more than 100 years for a single plastic bag to decay.”