A Quick Review: Which countries have implemented plastic bag usage regulations?
Since 2015, we have been following environmental decision-making with a critical eye. We have witnessed oil pipeline leaks in Alberta, wide-ranging wildfires in California, and massive flooding in Bangladesh. Whereas these disasters reflect rather emergency cases, another problem is lurking in the oceans. Marine plastic waste is a problem that has not been stopped yet and cannot be stopped immediately, but some countries attempt to regulate plastic usage by its citizens. This is partially done through strict bans or through economic incentives. The degree to which a ban is enforced and then also accepted by the society differs significantly from country to country. However, regulations on plastic bags are a first crucial step in going fossil-free, since the production of plastic requires oil.
All these environmental catastrophes, as well as social pressure by the people, impel policy-makers to consider the environment in political decisions. Whereas 50 years ago, governments were highly motivated to increase plastic production for economic benefit, nowadays politicians have become increasingly skeptical about the organic polymer. Let us have a look which regions are trailblazing the trend of phasing out plastic bags and which ones are about to jump on the bandwagon:
On the African continent, 27 countries have imposed plastic bag regulations. One country worth having a closer look at is Kenya: Kenya tried to ban all procedures involving plastic bags in 2007 already, but the lack of social acceptance and the fact that the government banned 30 microns plastic bags led to a withdrawal of the law. 30 microns plastic bags are the standard bin liner. In 2017, Kenya banned plastic bags again, and this time with success. Nowadays, use, manufacture, and import is banned in Kenya. Being involved in the import of plastic bags can lead up to four years in prison or a fee of 19,000-38,000 dollars. That is what we call consequential.
In Asia, 13 countries have enforced regulations on plastic bags. Many countries, such as Cambodia, are considering bans, but are far from enforcement. An interesting case is China, where plastic bags drain down into the sewage system and prevent continuous waste flow. China introduced a fee for ultra thin plastic bags in 2008. However, street vendors and smaller stores have not implemented this policy simply due to its inconvenience.
On the other hand, a good example for environmental change is the fully organic province of Sikkim in India. The local government did not only ban plastic bags but also plastic bottles and food containers.
The European Commission was the first political body that aimed to implement a plastic reduction policy that would go beyond borders. In this proposal, EU members could select their own path to discourage plastic bag usage. 32 countries have implemented plastic bag regulations, but only a few of them actually banned plastic bags.
One example is the country of Belgium. Belgium is a very special case as the three regions (Brussels, Flanders, and Walloon) have different laws, but they all agreed to the ban of plastic bags. In Walloon, single use plastic bags were prohibited in March 2017 and by the end of 2018, it is planned to even prohibit packaging for moist food. Brussels already banned single use plastic bags in 2017, but exempts biodegradable plastic for the list. The region of Flanders aims to implement the same policy this year, since 7 out of 10 Flemings go out shopping with a reusable bag anyways.
North and Central America
In North and Central America, seven countries have officially banned plastic bags. Among these are not politically powerful countries like the US or Canada, but smaller countries like Belize or Haiti. With regards to American and Canadian policy, it is hard to generalize regulations as they are state-dependent. For instance, the state of California has banned plastic bags.
In Australia, the state of South Australia banned plastic bags in 2008 along with the introduction of the Zero Waste program. There is no nation-wide ban, but the states of Queensland and Western Australia also prohibited plastic bags in the beginning of 2018.
Whereas no South American country has fully banned plastic bag, the cities of La Paz in Bolivia and Sao Paolo in Brazil have conducted a ban. Also Columbia does a lot to cope plastic waste and aims to get fully rid of plastic bag usage by 2025.
To conclude this review, there are two messages that can be drawn from taking a more global perspective towards the plastic problem.
First, plastic regulations are not merely an economic issue. A lot of African countries with less economic means are best examples of how a ban of plastic bags is not restricted by financial power. The United States, as a very wealthy country, show the other side of the coin by not even aiming for nation-wide plastic bag reduction. This is very unfortunate.
Second, it is remarkable that apart from the EU proposal, there is no uniting legislation for a global plan to prohibit the use of plastic bags. Surely, industrial lobbying might be an influencing factor, but a unified proposal would facilitate political processes across the globe.