Our disposable lifestyle is wreaking havoc on the environment. According to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, and half of that plastic is tossed after just one use. We’re talking about straws, soda bottles, coffee stirrers, yogurt cups and countless other plastic throwaways that have become a part of modern daily life. But all of this waste doesn’t disappear once it’s out of our hands: It lingers in landfills for centuries, adds to the pollution clogging our oceans and waterways, and does permanent damage to the planet.
The rate at which we’re consuming single-use plastics is not only staggering — people buy 1 million beverage bottles per minute and use 4 trillion plastic bags per year, reports the Earth Day Network — but also unsustainable. Thankfully, a growing number of environmentally-minded world leaders are taking action to lessen our giant plastic footprint. Here’s a look at what countries across the globe are doing now to fight single-use plastic waste:
On average, Danish shoppers use four plastic bags per year, compared with American shoppers who use about one per day, according to National Geographic. The incredibly low number used by Danes can be traced back to 1994, when Denmark became the first country to put a tax on single-use shopping bags. The Danish Ecological Council reports that the tax halved their bag usage and reduced the number littered throughout the country’s landscape.
In June this year, the South American country became the first nation in the Americas to ban the use of plastic bags in retail stores. Bigger businesses, like supermarket chains, have six months to comply to the new legislation, while smaller shops have two years to make the change. Chile follows a growing number of nations with full bans on plastic bags, including Rwanda, which is now considered the cleanest country in Africa.
In addition to plastic bags, France is the first country to ban single-use plastic plates, cups and cutlery. The law, passed in 2016, goes into effect in 2020, when picnic-goers will have to pack reusable forks and knives or find compostable alternatives. It’s part of the nation’s sweeping Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions without hindering overall economic growth.
The island took a huge stride toward eliminating plastic pollution earlier this year when it announced a plan to ban all single-use plastics by the year 2030. That includes straws, cups and shopping bags. Five years before the full ban goes into effect, customers will need to start paying to receive plastic cups, bags and cutlery. All restaurants will have to stop supplying plastic straws to customers in 2020.
In April, Prime Minister Theresa May shared a proposed plan to do away with straws and other single-use plastics, including cotton swabs, as early as next year. The U.K. has a history of taking measures to reduce plastic pollution — in 2015, the government established a charge for plastic shopping bags to encourage citizens to start carrying their own reusable ones.
The country’s Environment Management Agency banned polystyrene, the plastic foam packaging often used for take-out containers, after researchers at the University of Zimbabwe reported findings on the health and environmental risks of the material in 2017. The government is now promoting the use of greener food containers made of recyclable materials like paper or bamboo, and encouraging people to eat from dishware at restaurants rather than taking to-go when possible.
In 2015, former president Barack Obama signed a bill banning plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics, including face and body washes and toothpaste. (Here are 5 non-toxic health and beauty product swaps you should make.) While the law has flaws — it doesn’t extend to many other products that use these tiny non-biodegradable plastics, including detergents — it was the first national act passed to prevent these harmful orbs from entering our waterways, and inspired other nations to follow suit.
Looking forward, more countries plan to take measures that will cut down on preventable plastic waste. In fact, just this May, the European Commission proposed European Union-wide rules designed to prevent marine litter. These rules would specifically target the 10 single-use plastics most commonly found strewn about Europe’s beaches and floating in waterways. Some items (plastic plates, cutlery, straws, cotton buds, drink stirrers and balloon sticks) would be banned outright, while usage of others would be addressed through regulations like mandated recycling collection and national consumption reduction goals for EU member states.
While it’s promising to know that some world leaders are taking our plastic problem seriously, we all have to lend a hand to make a real impact. If we don’t slow our rate of consumption (and pollution), our oceans will be filled with more plastic particles than fish in just over 30 years. Start buying fewer single-use plastic products, and you can be a part of the global solution. Make an effort to always carry your own reusable water bottle, shopping tote and utensils, and take the Planet or Plastic pledge to hold yourself accountable.
Learn more about what Dropps is doing to reduce plastic use here.
Main image: Horia Varlan/Wikimedia Commons; Plastic fork: Paul Ferguson/Flickr Commons;