SANTIAGO – In a historic decision, Chile’s House of Representatives voted this Wednesday to ban the usage of plastic bags in all types of shops across the entire territory, making it the only country to prohibit them in the American continent.
The initiative was initially aimed only at the Patagonia area, but was later extended to apply to the entire nation.
According to La Tercera, the idea will now move into its third stage, which takes it to the Chamber of Deputies.
It will enter into force in a year’s time in the case of retailers, but in two years in the case of small businesses. This bill excludes rubbish bags.
In the meantime, supermarkets and shops will have to adhere to a strict rule that means they’re only allowed to give out two plastic bags to consumers for each purchase they make.
It was former president Michelle Bachelet who announced a related bill in 2017, during the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, which was praised both domestically and abroad.
“We are going to present a bill that will ban the usage of plastic bags in coastal cities within the next 12 months”, Bachelet said in New York City, in September.
President Sebastián Piñera’s second administration transformed it into a national-scale objective.
Piñera announced the idea last year – citing United Nations and independent studies that showed that 8 million tons of plastic waste worldwide ends up in the oceans each year. He also added that these take around 400 years to properly disintegrate.
Today’s resolution was heavily cheered by many political actors, specifically from Chile Vamos, the current coalition in power.
Hoy se aprobó la ley #ChaoBolsasPlásticas. Hemos dado un paso fundamental para un mejor cuidado de Chile y el planeta. Hoy estamos mejor preparados para legarle un mejor país a nuestros hijos, nietos y las generaciones que vendrán. pic.twitter.com/aIpafXb6x0
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) May 30, 2018
Piñera himself took to Twitter to say that “we have taken a fundamental step to take better care of Chile and the planet. Today we are more prepared to leave a better planet to our children, grandchildren and the generations to come”.
The secretary of the Environment, Marcela Cubillos, also shared on Twitter her thoughts. “Leaving Congress. Thanks for supporting this first step to combat plastic pollution,” she wrote.
— Marcela Cubillos Sigall (@mcubillossigall) May 30, 2018
According to data provided by the Association of Plastic Manufacturers (Asiplas in Spanish), it takes a minute to produce one plastic bag, which has, on average, a fifteen-to-thirty-minute lifespan. Nonetheless, each bag takes approximately 400 years to degrade.
Asiplas also said that Chile uses more than 3.4 billon plastic bags a year, which translates to almost 200 bags per person annually.
Some states and cities of the U.S. and Canada have similar measures in place, but those initiatives have not become national policies yet. Costa Rica, on the other hand, intends to ban single-use plastics by 2021.