Top UN Environmental Official: Ban Plastic Bags

by | Jun 10, 2009

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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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