This past week Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet signed a bill that will ban plastic bags in more than 100 coastal areas. Her decision, she said, was about “taking care of our marine ecosystems.”
“Our fish are dying from plastics ingestion or strangulation; [limiting plastic bags] is a task in which everyone must collaborate,” she added.
It’s a huge deal, not only for Chile’s environment, but for other countries considering their own plastic bag ban.
Chile’s World Wildlife Fund noted that the bill “marks a very important milestone for Chile and opens the door for the whole country to say goodbye to plastic bags.”
According to a 2015 study published in Science, about eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the sea every year, which can affect millions of marine species. And toxins ingested by fish exposed to those plastics can affect humans as well when they eat those fish.
Chile’s potential ban on plastic bags isn’t the first such ban. The U.S. in particular has already instated bans in many areas, including Massachusetts, California, and Washington. They’ve been shown to be quite effective, too: The ban in San Jose, California led to an 89 percent reduction in plastic bags ending up in storm drains. And in Seattle, Washington, the plastic bag ban has led to a 50 percent reduction of plastic bags ending up in city dumps.
In other areas it’s been trickier. State Senator Linda Stewart of Orlando recently announced she will file a bill in Tallahassee to reverse the current law that prevents governments from banning plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.
Why would a city have such a law in place to begin with? Money, it seems: Grocery heavy-hitter Publix lobbied state politicians to the tune of $1 million to get the law against banning plastic bags instated. However, Stewart may be turning the (plastic) tides with her bill, if it’s passed. At the very least, it’s inspired a similar measure in the Florida House of Representatives.
Banning plastic bags in more places—both in the U.S. and elsewhere—is likely to be a huge boon to marine wildlife. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.