SANTIAGO – Chile has become the first South American country to legally ban the widespread commercial use of plastic bags.
“I want to share with you the joy that as of today we’re enacting the law,” said President Sebastian Pinera at a public ceremony in the centre of Santiago on Friday, after which he handed out cloth bags to passers-by.
Any form of plastic bags other than those constituting primary packaging “necessary for hygiene or to prevent food wastage” is prohibited.
Large businesses have six months to phase out the use of plastic bags, while smaller ones will be given two years to adapt to the new rules.
Those flouting the ban will be subject to a $370 fine, in a country where the minimum wage is just $800.
In the meantime the shops will only be allowed to hand out two carrier bags per customer.
Chile es el 1er país de A. Latina en decir #ChaoBolsasPlásticas. Una bolsa plástica se produce en segundos, se usa minutos y tarda 400 años en degradarse. Queremos superar la cultura desechable y abrazar la reciclable x un Chile más limpio y q proteja mejor nuestra naturaleza🌱🌎 pic.twitter.com/T33qDK1aHo
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) August 3, 2018
“Without a doubt we’re taking a giant step towards a cleaner Chile,” added Pinera. “We want to go from a throwaway culture, where everything is used and chucked away, to the healthy culture of recycling.
“There are 7.6billion inhabitants in the world. We can’t continue polluting as if each one of us owned the Earth.”
The legislation was proposed by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, who banned the use of plastic bags in Chile’s Patagonia region.
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.
Chile uses more than 3.4 billon plastic bags a year, which translates to almost 200 bags per person annually.
Several other countries have also been taking steps to combat plastic pollution.
In January, Panama approved legislation curbing the commercial use of plastic bags. Businesses there were given up to 24 months to phase out the use of plastic carrier bags.
In England, a 5p compulsory charge per bag was introduced in 2015.
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.