The United States will phase out single-use plastics in national parks and other public spaces over the next decade, President Joe Biden’s administration announced Wednesday in actions marking World Oceans Day.
This includes the sale and distribution of plastic bags and bottles, as well as food wrappers, drink cups and other tableware, according to an order from Home Secretary Deb Haaland.
Government agencies have one year to develop plans to switch to alternatives such as biodegradable and compostable materials, and then have until 2032 to complete the transition.
“As stewards of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, we are in a unique position to do something for our planet.” Haaland said in a statement.
Plastic waste is devastating to fish and other wildlife, with the oceans bearing the brunt of the impact as they are downstream from all sources of pollution.
Of the more than 300 million tons of plastic produced each year, at least 14 million tons end up in the ocean, the Interior Ministry said.
While the plastics industry has tried to portray the problem as something that can be overcome through recycling, only nine percent of all plastic ever made in the world has been recycled, and recycling rates are stagnant.
Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director for the non-profit organization Oceana, welcomed the government’s announcement.
“The Biden administration is taking a huge step to protect our oceans from single-use plastic,” Leavitt told AFP.
Oceana and 300 other nonprofits, organizations and businesses filed for the lawsuit in a letter to the Biden administration last year.
The contract covers the country’s 423 national parks, but also wildlife refuges and other lands and bodies of water managed by the Department of the Interior: a total of 20 percent of the country of the United States, which hosts about 400 million visitors annually.
“Ten years is a long time, but we hope they will take steps to reach that ultimate goal,” Leavitt said.
A number of larger national parks have already moved toward dining areas with reusable tableware and refillable water stations, she added.
“Our hope is that eventually not only our national parks and other public lands, but also cities and counties and states across the country will be able to transition to these reusable and refillable systems.”
The White House also announced a new national marine sanctuary to preserve Hudson Canyon, an ecological hotspot that lies about 100 miles off the coast of New York and reaches depths of 2.5 miles, and the start of efforts to create one Ocean Climate Action Plan.
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