The Government of Quebec Office in New York, in partnership with New York University and Earth Day Network, convened experts, from city hall to state and national capitals, to take stock on tackling the global plastic bag issue. The goal of a joint discussion held with key representatives of United Nations agencies and governments was to exchange best practices in support of this year’s Earth Day theme: A World without Plastic Pollution.
According to international experts, it is estimated that approximately a trillion plastic bags are used around the world every year. If current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The average plastic bag is used for 20 minutes and takes more than 400 years to break down. To give these numbers a local context, in 2015, the world produced 322 million tonnes of plastic. That equals 900 Empire State Buildings!
As of January 1, 2018, Montréal is the first big city in Canada to ban single use plastic bags and the Canadian federal government is leveraging its presidency at this year’s G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Québec to push the global plastic problem front and center.
“Plastic pollutants are turning up in everything from endangered wildlife to municipal water supplies and we, as users, of plastic must come up with solutions,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network. “We thank the government of Quebec and NYU for joining with us in this important forum that has provided a strong set of best practices for disposable plastics like plastic bags.”
“Plastic pollution is a global problem, but in the absence of a coordinated global response, local action will be necessary to find our way to a solution,” said New York State Senator Liz Krueger. “Montreal has joined hundreds of cities, states, and countries round the world in banning single-use plastic bags. I’m confident that New York State will not be far behind. Small changes to our daily consumption routines can have a big impact on our shared environment, and ensure that we protect our quality of life for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.”
“The Clean Seas campaign of UN Environment seeks to address plastic pollution in a global effort, in cooperation with governments, businesses and others. It strikes at the root-causes of marine litter by targeting non-recoverable and single-use plastics. More than 40 countries have already joined the campaign and many others will be joining soon, ” said Jamil Ahmad, Director, a.i. UN Environment.
Moroccan Representative to the United Nations, Abdellah Larhmaid said, “There is a commitment at the highest level in Morocco. In his speech at COP21 in Paris, His Majesty King Mohammed VI expressed the need for a binding law on plastic bags. This resulted in law that came into effect in 2016 – in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech.”
Insights from today’s meeting highlight that policies to ban or put a price on plastic bags are highly effective in reducing plastic pollution. Successful implementation of these laws or regulations can be achieved through proven strategies. Countries or cities are most successful when they conduct studies about the economic impact of the possible policies, which provides them with enough data to engage the public, the plastic industry, and other constituencies.
Governments, national and local, have also found that although industry groups push back when policies to drastically reduce the use of plastic bags are planned or announced, they are quick to adapt, especially when they have time to do so and are engaged throughout the process. Additionally, involving civil society groups and the non-profit sector is essential to engaging the wider community. Civil society groups can reach a wide network and effectively communicate the message about the problem and proposed solutions to build community support and action around plastic bag legislation.