Bringing Back Single-Use Plastics Bans

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.

We Need More than Bans to Solve the Plastic Pollution Problem

Legislation on the usage of single-use plastics is changing our opinions of plastic products. A number of countries and states are leading the way in plastics legislation, implementing bans and regulations on a variety of plastic products and materials. The star of the plastics ban movement is the plastic bag, but the plastic straw has also become a rising star, as both of these products can (in theory) easily be replaced or removed from everyday life. And while bans have done an incredible job reducing our plastic usage, they alone cannot solve the worldwide plastic pollution crisis. Innovation must go hand-in-hand with bans, and the bans in place must provide room for companies to create and implement creative solutions to the problem.

In the United States, there are no federal bans or regulations on plastics. However, many states, cities, and local municipalities have moved ahead of the federal government and implemented bans on plastic bags, plastic straws, or even both. The two biggest states to highlight are California and Florida. Both of these states have miles and miles of coastlines and beaches, many of which are directly and negatively affected by plastic pollution. California became the first state to ban plastic bags, and Florida has the most cities with plastic straw bans in place. Other states should take note of their actions, and begin introducing bills and legislation to help curb the plastic consumption and production in this country.

One city leading the way in our home state with straw bans is Somerville, Massachusetts. They are one of the only cities in the state of Massachusetts to institute a plastic straw ban, and are leading the way to help the state reduce the amount of plastic it uses. However, it also raises some questions on what materials should be covered under a plastic straw ban. Somerville’s ban encompasses all plastic materials, including compostable bioplastics. Straw bans face a lot of backlash for 2 main reasons: many in the disabled community need a straw to drink a beverage, and because humans simply want the convenience and sanitation that comes with a straw. Compostable bioplastic options provide convenience, a positive customer experience over paper straws, an option for the disabled community, and most importantly, are of no harm to the planet. It’s important to understand the potential alternatives, so bans don’t accidentally eliminate something that can be an innovative and complete solution to the problem.

The world recognizes that plastic pollution is a problem we need to come together to solve. Of the 192 recognized countries in 2018, 127 have bans on plastic bags, 27 have bans against some kind of single-use plastic products or materials, and 63 have regulations in place for manufacturers to be responsible for the end-of-life of plastic products in some way. Clearly, we know this is a problem and are working to solve it. Bans and legislation regulating plastic usage and production is an incredibly efficient first step in the process. But we need to keep in mind that single-usage is not the problem, the material is. The idea of using a product once and throwing it away is fine, we just need to make those products from a more environmentally-friendly material that can still provide the experience a customer expects. UrthPact finds the solution quite simple: home compostable bioplastics. They check every box for the best alternative material: healthy beginning of life, healthy end of life, positive customer experience, and easy proper disposal. The home compostable revolution is only just beginning.