Chile banned retail businesses from using plastic bags on June 1, the latest victory in a growing campaign against plastic pollution, according to the New York Times.
Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera introduced the legislation earlier this month, and quickly signed the measure into law once it was approved by both chambers of Congress. His predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, enacted a ban on plastic bags in more than 100 coastal communities, and Piñera built on that ban to include the entire country.
Take Action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics
As the first country to ban plastic bags in the Americas, Chile joins a handful of countries elsewhere in the world, including Kenya and Morocco.
Piñera described the environmental toll of plastic pollution when he introduced the bill, according to the Miami Herald.
“Plastic bags are causing serious damage to our nature, to our environment, and to our health,” Piñera said on his Facebook page when he announced the measure.
“A bag is manufactured in a minute, used for half an hour, and remains for 400 years in our nature,” the president added. “Approximately 3.4 billion bags cycle through the Chilean commercial market from distributor, retailer, and finally to consumer. Where do the plastic bags go? In landfills, in the fields, in the mountain range, in the sea ... 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.”
Now that the law is on the books, large companies will have a year to find alternatives to plastic bags. Small and mid-sized companies will have two years before they can no longer use plastic bags, La Tercera reports.
In the meantime, businesses will be limited to giving out two bags per purchase.
Read More: There's Now a Black Market for Plastic Bags in Kenya
Globally, countries, cities, companies, and individuals have vowed to fight plastic pollution.
At least 16 countries have banned some form of plastic, and the European Union recently proposed a far-reaching ban on numerous single-use plastic items and restrictions on other common products.
Multinational companies as diverse as Alaska Airlines, Starbucks, and LEGO have either banned single-use plastic items or have invested in sustainable alternatives.
This growing movement is informed by the hazards of plastic pollution.
The 8 million tons of plastic that enter the world’s ocean each year pose serious risks to marine life, including coral and whales, and contaminate human food and water supplies.
Read More: The Long, Strange Journey of a Plastic Bag
Piñera noted that people use 62.2 million single-use plastic bags in Santiago, the country’s capital, each year and that a “an island of plastic bags of the size of a country like Mexico” has formed off the coast, according to the Miami Herald.
Now that the country has banned plastic bags, it can focus on cleaning up the islands of trash throughout the world’s oceans.
Global Citizen campaigns to end the production single-use plastics and you can take action on this issue here.