Getty Images / Jeff J. Mitchell
- New York state lawmakers have approved a state-wide plastic bag ban, which will go into effect in March 2020.
- Similar bans are already in effect in California, Hawaii, and more than 32 countries. Some places tax plastic bags in lieu of a ban.
- Shoppers use 500 billion single-use plastic bags worldwide every year.
- These bags typically end up in landfills or the ocean. More than 100,000 marine mammals get entangled in plastic bags and die annually.
- Other cities and companies have also banned single-use plastic straws.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature have approved a new fiscal budget that includes a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags.
When the ban goes into effect on March 1, 2020, New York will become one of three US states that doesn’t allow these bags. (The others are California and Hawaii.)
"The convenience of plastic bags is simply not worth the environmental impact," New York State Assembly speaker Carl Heastie told the Associated Press. "By reducing our state’s usage, we will see less litter in our communities and less plastic pollution in our waterways."
Shoppers worldwide use some 500 billion (yes, billion) single-use plastic bags annually. That’s roughly 150 bags per year for every person on Earth, according to the nonprofit group Ocean Crusaders. Strung end-to-end, that’s enough plastic to circle the globe 4,200 times.
On average, a plastic bag has only a 12-minute lifespan, according to Reusethisbag, an organization that sells sustainable grocery bags.
Most bags wind up languishing in landfills, where they can remain for up to 1,000 years. Some make their way into the ocean.
Another type of single-use plastic — straws — are also being phased out in some places. In the US, 500 million straws are used daily. But California has banned restaurants from serving customers plastic straws unless they ask, and Seattle has axed them as well.
About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year on average, though the maximum amount could be closer to 14 million tons.
Plastic bags that wind up in the ocean entangle and kill roughly 100,000 marine mammals each year. Recently, a pregnant sperm whale washed up dead on the shores of Sardinia with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Less than a month earlier, another dead whale was found to have ingested 88 pounds of plastic.
But while only three US states have taken steps to ban plastic bags, they’re already banned in 32 countries. Here are the cities and nations around the world that are tackling the growing threat of single-use plastic.
Most countries are taking the threat of plastic pollution seriously. According to a U.N. report, 127 countries had implemented some type of policy regulating plastic bags by July 2018.
The report showed that 27 countries have also enacted some type of ban on other single-use plastics like plates, cups, straws, or packaging.
Small island states have been disproportionately more likely to enact bans on single-use plastics, the report noted.
These efforts to cub plastic pollution aim to reduce the harm that plastic does to marine ecosystems and wildlife. The amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in the next decade.
Plastic bags, straws, and tiny plastic pieces called microplastics collect in giant ocean garbage patches, the largest of which is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This trash-filled vortex is more than twice the size of Texas.
Whales, in particular, are at extreme risk from plastic pollution.
SEAME Sardinia Onlus/AP
Whales and other animals appear to be confusing plastic items for food and consuming them. This can lead to behavioral changes, strangulation, and death in marine animals.
The pregnant sperm whale that washed up dead this week in Sardinia with 50 pounds of plastic in its belly was one of at least five whales that have died from plastics around the world in the last two years, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
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