Single-use plastics “are environmentally harmful, difficult or expensive to recycle and there are readily available alternatives, ”said Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last year.
Canada is not alone among nations taking action against single-use plastics. China implements a one-way ban on plastic bags. Kenya has banned single-use plastic bags and banned all single-use plastic in nature reserves. Zimbabwe has banned styrofoam food containers. The European Union has banned some single-use plastics, with this directive coming into force this year and setting a target for 2029 for the collection of 90% of plastic bottles. The UK has banned some of the same single-use plastics as the European Union. India is stopping the use of single-use plastics, although so far it has stood before a ban. However, 18 Indian states have banned many single-use plastic products.
In the United States, New Jersey has banned single-use plastic bags and polystyrene, and has restricted the distribution of single-use straws only on request. Plastic straws are important for people with some disabilities, so they can be banned altogether as an accessibility issue. New Jersey law goes into effect in 2022. New Jersey follows eight states that ban single-use plastic bags: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. A number of major cities also have pocket bans or fees. Maine, Maryland, Vermont, New York, and Virginia have also banned Styrofoam food containers. Three states have straw-on-demand laws.
Neither a state nor a large city is required to enact a sensible ban on harmful forms of packaging. For example, 49 cities in Massachusetts alone have banned some form of styrofoam packaging.
Some opponents of single-use plastic bans claim they are not helpful – that paper bags are just as bad, that the lack of plastic bags forces people to buy more plastic trash bags, or that reusable bags are counterproductive because they offer more resources -productively . Not so, says the Defense Council on Natural Resources: Paper bags are far from perfect and we should try to use them less, but they break down where plastic doesn’t and are more likely to be made of recycled material to begin with. Reusable bags may be more resource intensive to manufacture, but the point is that they can be reused enough times to more than make up for this. And, according to a study, trash bag sales rose slightly after the plastic bag ban in California, while less than 30% of the reduction caused by the ban was offset by higher trash bag sales.
In short, it is good to reduce the need for take-out packaging through individual measures. Better yet, encourage your favorite restaurant to use more environmentally friendly packaging. However, government enactment of one-way plastic bans of one kind or another will have the greatest impact. When you hear the problem in your area, let your lawmaker know that you are enthusiastic about supporting it.