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Chileans say “goodbye” to the use of plastic bags

On July 28, a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that increased consumption of protective equipment amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic has led to an increase in pollution of the planet’s environment. In response to the provisions of the document, Chile became the first Latin American country to abandon the use of plastic bags in the commercial sphere. How will the commercial and environmental policy of the state change?

After the report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was released, experts said that protective masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles and food packaging have caused more environmental pollution. The representatives of the international organization called on the governments of the states to abandon the use of plastic, or at least switch to non-toxic and biodegradable substitutes for plastics such as glass, ceramics, natural fibers, paper, cardboard, rice husks, natural rubber or animal proteins. In addition, according to the latest reports from the European Commission, more than 80% of the destructive waste for the world’s oceans is plastic.

On August 3, the Chilean Minister of the Environment, Carolina Schmidt (Spanish – María Carolina Schmidt Zaldívar), announced the final ban on the use of plastic bags in the trade. This year, the Latin American country has implemented the final stage – the ban on plastic bags in small stores. It is worth noting that the rejection of plastic began in Chile on August 3, 2018.

Chile became the first country in Latin America to ban plastic bags in 2018. The law came into force in August 2018 with a six-month moratorium for large distribution networks and two years for other businesses. According to official figures from the Ministry of the Environment, in those two years of partial ban alone, the use of about 5 billion plastic bags in the South American country was prevented.

The international independent non-governmental environmental organization “Greenpeace”, an, notes that this law was “the first step against the plastics pandemic” and recommends not only companies, but also citizens to create, buy and store items that replace plastic in their daily lives. The organization emphasizes that Chile was the first state to eliminate plastic bags in the region, however, this Latin American country still has a record in this area: it has the first place in the production of plastic waste per capita on the continent.

Due to the current situation in the world, the nongovernmental organization warns about the problem of the presence of plastic in the oceans, where plastic waste ends up if it is not handled properly or discarded directly. Thus, environmentalists believe that recycling is insufficient to end the current crisis, since less than 12% of the total amount of plastic has been recycled in Chile. According to experts, the Chileans are still very far from a satisfactory goal, corresponding to the urgency of the task, not to mention the difficulties that local authorities face in increasing the volume of waste recycling. Therefore, if alternatives exist, the solution is to eliminate and reduce their consumption. The best plastic is the one that isn’t used. Soledad Acuña, spokesman for “Greenpeace” in Chile, also pointed out that, given that the growth in plastics production and the role it has played in creating the pollution crisis in ecosystems must face a change in our view of how we consume food.

The researcher at the Center for Innovation in Containers and Packaging Materials “LABEN-CHILE” (Spanish –Centro de Innovación en Envases y Embalajes “LABEN-CHILE”)  of the University of Santiago, Maria José Galotto, emphasized that the new legislation enters into the context of mass and irrational consumption of this type of product, without realizing caused environmental damage. According to Galotto, quoted by the Chilean newspaper “La Tercera”, the next step should be to move closer to a “circular economy”,  in which plastic waste will become a new secondary raw material without losing value.

After the introduction of a complete ban on plastic in Chile, violating stores will be required to pay fines of up to 250 thousand pesos (about $ 330) for each package sold. From August 3, polyethylene can only be used to keep food fresh or for hygienic purposes. For large companies, a deadline has been set equivalent to six months to completely eliminate plastic bags. Small businesses are offered a period of two years.

The Chilean Ministry of the Environment said the law banning plastic bags is the first step in tackling the indiscriminate use of plastics. Significantly, the Extended Producer Responsibility Act (Spanish – Responsabilidad Extendida del Productor, REP) is currently being applied, which will force businesses to take care of waste, collect and recycle it.

A bill to regulate disposable products that are delivered to restaurants, casinos, social clubs, cafes, tea rooms, bakeries, bars or other similar places where ready-made products are sold is being actively promoted in the National Congress of Chile. Thus, disposable cutlery, trays, glasses or light bulbs may soon be banned as well.

Summing up, it is worth noting that, in addition to Chile, several Latin American countries have made attempts to “contain” the amount of plastic that affects the environment. Since May 2019, the Peruvian authorities have approved a law governing the use of disposable plastic materials, containers and packaging; and from January 1, 2020, a tax of 20 cents is levied on the purchase of plastic bags. For example, in Uruguay, only bags that are biodegradable or recyclable can be manufactured or imported into the country.

Referring to world experience, it should be mentioned that there are similar measures in other countries. Since March 2019, the European Parliament has banned ten single-use plastic items such as cigarettes, plastic straws, cotton swabs and cutlery. Since 2019, the South Korean government has banned large supermarkets from using disposable plastic bags. Currently, establishments offer their customers cloth or paper bags. Many experts believe that the rejection of single-use plastic should occur gradually, in an evolutionary way.

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