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Top UN Environmental Official: Ban Plastic Bags

marinelitterPlastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly, says Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

UNEP released a report that identifies plastic as the most pervasive form of ocean litter. The report’s findings reveal that despite several international, regional and national efforts to reverse marine pollution, ocean litter continues to endanger people’s safety and health, entrap wildlife, damage nautical equipment and deface coastal areas around the world.

Although recycling bags is on the rise in the United States, an estimated 90 billion thin bags a year go unrecycled, reports McClatchy Newspapers, and they were the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts at the 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, a marine environmental group.

The ban on plastic bags is already being tested in China, where retailers who give out thin bags can be fined up to $1,464, reports McClatchy.

Plastic bag usage at foreign and domestic supermarkets dropped more than 80 percent and 60 percent, respectively, according to a recent survey conducted by China Chain Store & Franchise Association (CCFA). The retail organization estimates that plastic bag use at China’s supermarkets dropped 66 percent on average or about 40 billion plastic bags.

In the United States, only San Francisco has completely banned plastic bags with Los Angeles opting for a voluntary ban. However, many U.S. retailers including Wal-Mart, H-E-B, Fred Meyer Stores, and JCPenney are promoting the use of reusable bags, and in some cases implementing surcharges for plastic bags. Others like Apple are implementing “no plastic bag” policies.

British retailers such as Marks & Spencer also are encouraging the use of reusable bags.

Industry groups are working towards increased recycling of plastic bags. For example, the Full Circle Recycling Initiative aims for 40 percent recycled content in all plastic bags by 2015, including at least 25 percent postconsumer recycled plastic.

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3 thoughts on “Top UN Environmental Official: Ban Plastic Bags

  1. I am one of the co-authors of the UNEP report on marine litter and have been working with the UNEP/Regional Seas Programme the marine litter initiative for the past several years. The call for a ban on plastic bags, which is one strategy that could be employed, was not among the primary recommendations proposed from the reports from the 12 participating Regional Seas. In fact, another recent report by UNEP cautions that bans can have unintended consequences. See page 9: http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/Economic_Instruments_and_Marine_Litter.pdf.

    There are fundamental issues related to adequate and integrated solid waste management capacities that must addressed globally; the effective implementation of existing regulations and policies for litter prevention; conducting further research and monitoring to document the impacts of marine litter and use that information for developing local programmes and interventions; expanding education and outreach campaigns to engage key stakeholders and user groups in behavioral changes to support litter prevention and proper waste management; develop and expand partnerships with industry, government and civil society to work effectively on this issue; and directing funds to support these efforts are needed to effectively combat this global problem.

    There is more to reducing the presence and impacts of marine litter than banning various products — people and how they handle their solid wastes is the foundation of this issue in the first place. Getting the public to recognize their contributions to this problem is essential to developing any long-term, lasting solutions. Marine litter would not exist if solid wastes were not improperly handled by people in the first place.

  2. This seems like a good idea i heard something about this on the radio yesterday, probably tough to implement though.

  3. I agree that behaviour change around our attitudes towards waste is what is required. However, the impetus for behaviour change often comes when there is a regulation to follow or a higher financial cost involved. Education and regulation go hand in hand and both are required for effective sustainable change. We have been working in our city to raise awareness with limited success. However when some of the big grocery stores started charging 5c for the plastic shopping bag there was an immediate drop in usage. The plastic bag issue is a symbol of our throw away convenience driven society – a society where we feel entitled to gobble up all of the resources with no regard for the long term consequences to the planet. In addition to a litter issue this is also about unnecessary wasteful consumption of non renewable resources. Marine litter would be drastically reduced if we didn’t have the plastic bags in the first place.

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