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Chile says goodbye to plastic bags

Chile has adopted a law which bans the use of plastic bags in larger retail stores, making it the first country in South America to do so.

A six-month adjustment period has been announced in which Chilean retail stores will be able to hand out a maximum of two plastic bags per customer. After this deadline, the ban will be total for supermarkets, pharmacies and other major retail stores.

A fine of US$ 370 (EUR 324) will be levied on those breaking the law, says the government. The new legislation excludes primary food packaging that is considered necessary for reasons of hygiene or to prevent food wastage.

400 years to degrade

In Chile, some 3.2 billion plastic bags are produced each year. After consumption, around 90% end up in open dumps or in the sea. ‘A plastic bag is produced in seconds, used for less than 30 minutes from the supermarket to the house, and then takes 400 years to degrade,’ says Chile’s president Sebastián Piñera. ‘For a minute, or for a few minutes, nature suffers the effect of plastic bag for over 400 years. We cannot allow this.’ Chile, with a population of 17 million people, has a 4% recycling rate.

Who’s next?

Colombia imposed a tax on plastic bags last year and, while Panama approved a total ban in January, shops are allowed longer (18 months) to adapt before it takes effect. Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize and Costa Rica and some cities including Buenos Aires have all implemented measures to combat the use of plastic bags.

Five trillion bags

According to UN, around five trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, most of which are made from polyethylene, an oil derivative that takes about 500 years to degrade. Each year, 13 million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans.

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