Bags. Straws. Bottles. What do they all have in common? You guessed it, they’re all single-use plastics. They’re also all currently being targeted by a variety of plastics bans worldwide. Plastics bans are any form of legislation that restricts the production, use, or distribution of single-use plastic products. They can be implemented at all levels of government, and have created a strong driving force for society to make changes in their views and dependence on single-use plastics. Plastics legislation has taken a backseat in the beginning half of 2020, but it’s more important now than ever for us to take a hard look at what we can do to curb the plastic pollution problem.
Of the 50 states in America, 26 of those have some kind of restriction on single-use plastics. These regulations and restrictions vary widely, geographically and in content-matter. Some states like California have a ban on plastic bags across the state, but straw bans only in certain cities. Montana bans plastic straws and in their national parks, including Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. Washington DC has completely banned plastic bags and straws within the city limits. These differing restrictions are due to the fact that the US has no federal regulations on single-use plastics.
127 countries worldwide have restrictions on plastic bag usage, production, and distribution, and 27 countries have restrictions on particular single-use plastic products or materials, outside of plastic materials. It’s key to understand how these regulations work in the hierarchy of government to truly understand their impact. Essentially, the highest level restrictions and legislation are at the federal level. All states and local governments must comply with standards set by the federal government. At the state level, states can further restrict plastics usage from that set at the federal level, but not loosen restrictions. So, if the federal government has banned all plastic bags, a state can decide to also ban plastic straws, but cannot decide they want to allow plastic bags. It’s a similar situation at the local level. Individual municipalities can further restrict state legislation but cannot loosen it. This is why you often see straws banned only in particular cities within a state.
Because federal legislation is the “all-powerful umbrella” when it comes to plastics bans, it’s key for federal governments to take steps to at least reduce the usage and production of single-use plastic products. Simple concepts like making manufacturers and distributors responsible for the end-of-life of the plastics they utilize have the potential to make a huge difference. The coronavirus pandemic put many plastics bans on hold, or even caused those in place to be removed. Now, single-use plastic pollution has spiked to unheard of levels, and we need to make changes to curb the issue. Bans on single-use plastics are a great start, as well as a great motivator to encourage people to make more sustainable choices. While bans can’t solve the plastic pollution problem on their own, they can open doors for innovative solutions that will help us to save the planet.