13 Brilliant Ways Other Countries Are Replacing Plastic

Our world is drowning in plastic. Fortunately, efforts are expanding across the planet to tackle the single-use plastics crisis.

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The truth about single-use plastic

A staggering five trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually around the globe—and each bag takes 1,000 years to decompose. Each bag contributes to the 400 million tons of plastic produced every year. About 2.5 million plastic water bottles are trashed hourly. Over eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean annually with single-use plastic bottles accounting for 1.5 million tons of ocean waste. Our harmful plastic habits must change or there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic litter on Earth by 2050. The good news: governments in at least 32 countries have banned plastic bags altogether and at least 127 countries have implemented policies regulating plastic bags according to the United Nations.

“Governments have a critical role to play in addressing plastic pollution at its source by banning single-use plastics,” says Graham Forbes, Greenpeace Global Plastics Project Leader. Countries must hold consumer goods companies and retailers accountable for their reliance on single-use plastic and send a clear signal to the oil and gas sector that the days of extracting fossil fuels to make toxic throwaway plastic are numbered.”

Many countries around the globe are implementing plastic bans and encouraging consumers to replace plastic with alternative materials including biodegradable single-use items and eco-friendly reusable products.

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Say No to Plastic Bags, Recycle and Pollution Problem Concept
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Luxemburg loves the eco-sac

Since 2004 the government of Luxemburg along with and Valorlux, a waste management non-profit, have replaced the country’s single-use plastic bag with the Öko-Tut, an eco-sac reusable bag. Eighty-five retailers implemented the use of the Öko-Tut bags resulting in an 85 per cent drop in plastic consumption in the first nine years of the initiative. This has cut down on the use of 920 million single-use plastic bags.

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White single-use plastic bags and other plastic items on a yellow background. The concept of choice without plastic or environmental problems.
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Guatemala goes back to ancestral methods

A Mayan village in Guatemala is on the front lines of the movement against single-use plastics in the country. San Pedro La Laguna established a zero-tolerance policy against plastic bags, straws, and containers in 2016—the first municipal law against single-use plastics in Guatemala. The government collected all plastics from community members and gave them complimentary reusable or biodegradable alternatives as well as handmade rubber basket bags. Villagers have returned to ancestral methods using hoja del maxán (large leaves) to package meat and cloth napkins to carry tortillas. San Pedro La Laguna has influenced other municipalities in Guatemala to implement single-use plastic bans, including Antigua.

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Costa Rica is building a zero-waste future

Costa Rica is on the verge of becoming the first country in the world to eliminate plastic bags, bottles, cutlery, straws, and coffee stirrers by 2021. According to Visit Costa Rica, the objective is to replace 80 per cent of the country’s disposable plastic packaging with non-petroleum renewable materials which can biodegrade within six months, even in a marine environment. Renewable choices include cassava bags, sugar cane takeaway boxes, and wooden coffee stirrers. Health Minister María Esther Anchía said that Costa Ricans discard 1.5 million plastic bottles every day. The country was awarded the 2019 Champions of the Earth honour—the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade.

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Mexico’s grassroots fight against plastic

Throughout Mexico, grassroots movements are occurring to replace plastics at local levels. The Government of Baja California passed a restrictive law to reduce single-use plastic. Alternatives in the region include straws made of agave fibres or avocado pits; cutlery made of cornstarch; Kraft paper bags; Greenware cups and containers made from plants; and hot beverage cups made of bamboo fibres and waxed with PLA—all of which are certified to be 100 per cent compostable. Cero Basura Yucatán is leading the way towards plastic replacements with frequent workshops, zero-waste markets, and plastic elimination tips.

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Dominica loves nature too much to use plastic

The Nature Island of the Caribbean has banned non-biodegradable plastics. CREAD (Climate Resilient Execution Agency for Dominica) is helping islanders phase out their plastic consumption by introducing plant-based reusables that can be completely or partially converted into water, energy, and biomass. The plastic replacements in Dominica include bottles, food containers, plates, display trays, cups, lids, cutlery, and straws made from biodegradable materials including paper and cornstarch.

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No more single-use plastic will come to Jamaica

Jamaica banned the importation of single-use plastic bags and straws this year. According to the Jamaica Tourist Board, the government is currently working with local bag companies to manufacture environmentally-friendly replacements. In the meantime, people have switched to reusable shopping bags, biodegradable paper straws, and cardboard boxes. The next wave of the plastic bans will remove plastic straws from juice boxes and drink pouches.

Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Consider these small changes you can make to help the environment.

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Clear disposable plastic bag on color background.
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Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda banned plastic shopping bags in 2016. To ease the financial burden on citizens as they replace plastics the government in Antigua and Barbuda declared alternatives to be tax-free, including products made from sugar cane, bamboo, paper, and potato starch. Complimentary reusable shopping bags made by local seamstresses and tailors were distributed at major supermarkets in addition to paper bags made from recycled material. The plastic replacements led to a 15.1 per cent decrease in plastic in landfills during the first year of the initiative.

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Three crashed plastic bottles on blue background form resycling sign. Plastic utilisation concept. Attractive ecological problem positive poster.
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India loves to repurpose and reuse

Plastic is an ongoing issue in India despite many plastic bans. The latest initiative in the world’s second-largest country is phasing out plastic and replacing it with jute, a raw material that can be used as an eco-plastic alternative. The Indian government plans to replace all single-use plastic with jute, and in the meantime, many vendors have implemented eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. In the state of Kerala, it’s an age-old tradition to serve Thali meals on banana leaves instead of plastic plates and use your hands for eating instead of plastic cutlery. Throughout Rajasthan, it’s common to see colourful saris upcycled into shopping bags at markets and shops.

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Bali is an emerging waste-fighter in Indonesia

Indonesia is the second-largest contributor to plastic waste in the ocean. A youth-led initiative was launched in Bali to reduce plastic bags which influenced the government of Bali which began phasing out plastic bags and straws since 2018. The Indonesian national government is following suit and hopes to reduce plastic marine waste by 70 per cent by 2025. Local company Avani Eco creates ‘I Am Not Plastic’ bags which have gained popularity in Indonesia. The biodegradable plastic bags are made from cassava and claim to be water-soluble, non-toxic, and compostable.

Aside from plastic, here are the everyday items that take the longest to decompose.

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Plastic waste bottles top view. Eco plastic recycling concept.
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Grocery stores in Thailand are repurposing leaves

Thai grocery store Rimping went viral when pictures surfaced of plastic packaging being replaced by thick banana leaves. Produce was wrapped in the leaves and secured with bamboo. This sort of packaging is inherent in Thailand where many street vendors wrap sticky rice dishes in banana leaves to cook and serve to patrons. Plastic is still widely used in the country but hopefully, other retailers will be inspired to follow the footsteps of Rimping and turn to leaves instead of plastic for packaging.

These shocking statistics will prompt you to rethink single-use plastic products.

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Clear disposable plastic bag on color background
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Rwanda is a pioneer in replacing plastic bags

Africa has the largest number of countries with plastic bag bans; currently, there are 25 national bans. Rwanda was a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags. A zero-tolerance policy was introduced over a decade ago and now the African country is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Removing plastic bags substantially reduced litter and the harmful toxins released from burning plastics. Plastic bags were replaced with paper and cotton bags.

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Black, blue and white plastic bags on blue background. Representation of plastic pollution concept
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Morocco put a halt to black plastic bags

Morocco used to be the second-largest plastic bag consumer, following the United States. To combat this, Morocco banned black plastics bags and seized 420 tons of plastic bags in a single year. Moroccans have since abandoned their plastic shopping bags in favour of more environmentally sound fabric and paper bag replacements.

Here are more lessons we can learn from the most eco-friendly nations on the planet.

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People and businesses lead the way in New Zealand

In July 2019, New Zealand banned single-use plastic bags. Prior to the new legislation businesses and individuals were already pondering replacing plastic. The Facebook group Zero Waste in NZ has more than 30,000 users who share ideas about unique alternatives to plastic. Twelve companies signed a declaration committing to use 100 per cent compostable, reusable, or recyclable packaging by 2025 including international brands such as L’Oréal, the Coca-Cola Company, and Nestlé.

Next, find out what Canada’s ban on single-use plastics will mean for Canadians—and the environment.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest