In a new report, the United Nations warns that the planet is being “swamped” by plastic and unless action is taken that, by 2050, there could be more of it in our seas than fish. The U.N.’s Environmental Program says that a global culture of throwaway plastic, bought for a moment’s use then left to stagnate in landfills, needs to stop. The biggest culprit in a sea of offenders being the plastic bag.
It’s not new information. In fact, countries all over the world have been passing laws to protect the environment for years. In Kenya, if you produce, sell, or use a plastic bag you face a fine of up to $40,000 or up to four years in jail. In Cameroon, smugglers still try and sneak illegal bags into the country, and even the post-genocide nation of Rwanda banned them back in 2008. In the United States, California is the only state currently to ban the single-use plastic bags. On the east coast, plastic bags have become something of a political pawn for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Last year, he blocked legislation to put a 5 -cent tax to curb the use of single-use plastic bags, but in the middle of a reelection effort that’s pushing Cuomo further to the left, the governor has now announced a proposal to ban entirely plastic bag usage by 2019 across the state.
While cities and towns across the country have made some effort to ban their use, plastic bags can find their way into water supplies, parks, and are lethal to most all pets and wildlife. An unsightly addition to the city, New Yorkers use upwards of 23 billion plastic bags every year. Each week the single-use, carry-out bags end up as 1,700 tons of garbage. But the state has faced their fair share of legislative setbacks when it comes to easy to throw away pollutants. Originally lifted in 2015, a ban on single-use Styrofoam containers was reintroduced two years later after a failed lawsuit by recycling firms and plastic manufacturers claimed they were are actually recyclable.
Writing in the Guardian today, the U.N. Environmental Program chief Erik Solheim urged everyone—governments, citizens, and businesses—to rethink their buying habits and turn down all unnecessary single-use plastic. Single-use wrapping, straws, and cutlery are all just as bad as bags but it might take time for the culture of the city to catch-up with the rest of the world.