Germany is planning to ban plastic bags, becoming the latest country to outlaw the grocery store items that have been shown to accumulate in the world’s oceans, according to the Independent.
The country’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, said that the ban is intended to ensure “that we [Germany] get out of the throw-away society and that overall, we use less plastic.”
Germany has tried to reduce plastic bag use in the past by creating a voluntary agreement with grocery and retail stores to find alternatives and reduce how many bags customers receive. That framework has resulted in a 64% decline in plastic bag use since 2015. Now Shultze wants to minimize plastic bag use even further.
No specific date has been released for the prospective ban, but the country’s current efforts to eliminate plastic bags may allow it to move on an accelerated timeline.
Globally, dozens of countries have restricted plastic bag production and consumption, and others are planning to roll out full bans on them in the years ahead. More than 180 countries have joined a United Nations pact to mitigate plastic pollution in the oceans, the European Union voted to drastically reduce single-use plastics, and the World Bank has created the Pro Blue Fund to clean up the oceans as well.
Single-use plastic bags have become ubiquitous at check-out lines over the past several decades, but their flimsy design, combined with a general lack of recycling centers and a widespread tendency to simply throw them out in garbage cans has turned them into a major environmental pollutant.
Read More: The Long, Strange Journey of a Plastic Bag
Each year, people use an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. In the US alone, people use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, the EPA reports and only 5% of these ever get recycled.
The remaining 95% of plastic bags either end up stuffed in people’s cupboards, in landfills, or contaminating ecosystems.
Plastic waste has, in particular, caused disastrous harm to marine animals. More than 700 animals have been found to be harmed by plastic, and it’s possible that all marine creatures are negatively impacted by the material, according to National Geographic.
Read More: Scientists Found a Plastic Grocery Bag in the Ocean's Deepest Trench
Creatures as small as amphipods and as big as whales have been harmed by plastic waste. Each year, an estimated 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting it, and hundreds of thousands of more die after getting entangled in discarded fishing gear.
Even coral reefs are damaged by plastic pollution.
More than 8 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year, and more than 5 trillion pieces of microplastic currently contaminate marine environments.
Read More: 5 Plastic Alternatives Doing More Harm Than Good — and What to Use Instead
By planning a ban, Germany is taking a stand against this rampant contamination of the world’s oceans.