UN Calls for Ban on Plastic Bags to Save Oceans and Ocean Species

The United Nations Climate Change Director Achim Steiner has called for a world wide ban on plastic shopping bags saying, “Single use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere”. Mr. Steiner made the plea a day after World Ocean Day, June 8th.

The request came after the U.N. Environment Program released a comprehensive report on litter in the world’s oceans, which identified plastics as accounting for over 80% of the debris collected in some regions. This has led to floating plastic debris patches of increasing size, with at least one being nearly twice the size of the State of Texas.

In addition to being the most prevalent component of marine debris, plastic is also a wildlife killer. A recent study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin cited plastics as accounting for one third of leatherback sea turtle deaths. The turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish due to the similar appearance and movements and subsequently ingest them. Another study found that 94% of fulmars had plastics in their stomachs. Additionally, monk seals and even sperm whales have been known to swallow the bags and suffocate, drown or starve as a result.

In the United States, the regulation of plastic bags is slow but moving forward. The Washington D.C. City Council recently voted unanimously to impose a $.05 tax on plastic (and paper) bags to discourage their use. San Francisco banned their use in 2007 and LA is planning to eliminate them by 2010. Cities and counties in Washington, Connecticut and Iowa have considered or passed plastic bag legislation as well. Some retailers, such as Whole Foods, have stopped offering them as an option to consumers. Attempts to ban or tax them have failed in Baltimore and New York.

Worldwide, China has banned the distribution of plastic bags and Ireland taxed them into scarcity. Israel, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Canada, Taiwan, Tanzania, South Africa, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are considering banning the plastic bag.

Please consider supporting cleaner waters and safer spaces for wildlife by contacting your local and state elected officials to support any legislation to ban or tax plastic shopping bags. While there is currently nothing before Congress pertinent to controlling plastic bags, you may contact your member of Congress by calling the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to voice your support for such a resolution.

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