Single-use plastic is a leading cause of the world’s plastic pollution. In recent years, everything from disposable straws, cups, bottles and shopping bags have contributed to approximately 130 million tonnes of waste. This massive volume is incinerated, buried in landfill, or disposed of directly into the sea — but unfortunately, plastics don’t biodegrade. This means that over time, these products will gradually break down into microplastics that harm the environment, damaging habitats and contributing to climate change.
As a result, many countries have started to impose bans on single-use plastic to varying extents. The EU is one governing authority that has attempted to enshrine these cleaner, greener practices in law, but has seen little compliance among its member states. Countries such as France and Greece have made changes and even added to the EU measures to curb their domestic waste output, while others have lagged behind.
But there is hope: countries elsewhere in the world have made strides toward a future free from the controversial material. We can learn from them as we strive to lower our own plastic use. Here are our picks for the top locations that have banned single-use plastic.
The small two-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis is a popular Caribbean destination that is addressing the problem of single-use plastic to preserve its natural beauty and tourist appeal. The country’s “Plastics Be Gone” initiative aims to minimise consumption by 30% over five years, while a “Plastic Free July” scheme encourages residents to step away from plastic waste completely and think about the hazardous effects of climate change.
The islands also utilize funds from their Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program to raise awareness of plastic consumption and other climate risks. The scheme grants citizenship on the islands in exchange for monetary investment in their development and sustainability efforts. This way, investors gain the right to live and work in the country by donating to trusts such as the Sustainable Growth Fund, helping to finance social and economic development across sustainable sectors such as alternative energy, education and climate change.
The UK is no longer a part of the EU. As such, the nation is not subject to the bloc’s rulings on single-use plastic waste. Despite this, Scotland and Wales have each opted to link the restrictions they will impose to follow EU legislation, creating a variety of restriction conditions across the UK. Therefore, bans that have already been imposed in England are looking to extend to the other parts of the UK. These largely target plastic cutlery, drinks stirrers, straws, plates and polystyrene containers.
The UK has also cracked down on the sale of beauty and hygiene products that contain plastic microbeads, such as some facial scrubs and toothpastes. These are tiny pieces of plastic that are used for their exfoliant properties, but when washed down drains end up in the ocean and contribute to marine plastic pollution.
Kenya is known for its no-nonsense approach to plastic waste. The east-African nation banned single-use carrier bags in 2017, and now enforce strict fines of up to $40,000 for any offenders found using, selling or manufacturing the bags. This tough penalty is more than mere lip-service to sustainability — since its introduction, the law has seen a number of fruit sellers and other vendors arrested for sales.
The government later imposed a directive to ban single-use plastics in protected areas to mark World Environment Day. This ban extended to beaches, forests and areas of conservation where visitors would no longer be permitted to carry plastic bottles, cups or disposable utensils. Environmental preservation is a top priority for governing authorities so that the landscapes and iconic wildlife of Kenya can be enjoyed for years to come.
Single-use plastic takes many forms, and each industry seemingly has its own sustainability sins to deal with. In 2020, Bangladesh opted to address those in its hospitality industry, ruling that hotels and other accommodation nationwide should halt their provision of toiletries and other plastic-packaged goods. Coastal areas were also a point of contention for the high court, as they voted to outlaw all single-use plastic consumption in these areas of natural beauty.
As the world’s first country to ban plastic carrying bags in 2002, Bangladesh continues to push the envelope of what it means to be sustainable. In 1998, the nation learned firsthand of the devastating consequences of excessive plastic waste, when a catastrophic monsoon season caused mass flooding across its cities, thanks in part to their drainage systems blocked by plastic bags. However, despite being pioneers, Bangladesh authorities have reportedly issued very few fines since the historic 2002 ruling — they may want to take some notes from Kenya.
In summary, many countries all across the globe are committed to hopeful initiatives to tackle single-use plastic consumption. Other countries and businesses can learn from these lessons and reduce single use plastics as well. As pressure builds for governments to take action, the tide could be turning against plastic waste — and we may be able to continue to enjoy our natural world for years to come.