Costa Rica is striving to become the first country to ban single-use plastics by 2021.

Plastic is filling and choking our oceans. It is overflowing in our trash dumps and landfills. Many of the sea creatures we love – birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, and whales- die in various ways due to the plastic that’s suffocating our seas. Not only that, we humans are now ingesting thousands of plastic particles every year that are in our water, air, and common foods. The effect on our health is still unknown.

We dump eight million tons of plastic into the sea every year, reports the Earth Day Network. This is on top of the Ocean Conservancy estimate that there are already 150 million metric tons of plastic in the world’s oceans. Plastic is found up to 11 km deep in the ocean, and even in remote Arctic sea ice. That synthetic fibers have contaminated even the most remote places on Earth is a sobering example of how we humans have affected our planet. Plastic pollution is the most visible example of the widespread destruction we’re causing to our only home. And It is getting worse. According to the World Wildlife Fund, without an immediate global response, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. It is clear that urgent action is needed.

Costa Rica, already a world leader in ecotourism, has pledged to become the first country to prohibit single-use plastics by 2021. The Costa Rican government also promised, back in 2007, that the country will be carbon-neutral by 2021, which is the nation’s 200th anniversary of independence. Costa Rica’s single-use plastics ban will include straws, cutlery, bags, bottles and cups made from plastic that are designed to be used only once and then thrown away, which only add to the world’s already overwhelming plastic trash problem.

Why are single-use plastics so bad? The issue is in their long life. A single plastic bottle can take more than 450 years to decompose, while a plastic bag can take more than 1,000 years. In 1994, the Costa Rican government amended its constitution to include each citizen’s right to a healthy environment, one that is free of contamination. The country first announced it would eliminate single-use plastics in 2017 on World Environment Day (June 5). It launched a national strategy to replace plastics with recyclable and water-soluble materials. However, still in 2018, Costa Rica was the largest plastic importer in all of Central America, according to the United Nations Development Program. An estimated 550 tons of plastic are dumped daily in Costa Rica; 80% of which end up in the ocean, 11% in landfills and dumpsites, while only 9% are recycled. Single-use plastics have a huge impact on the Costa Rican economy because tourism contributes to over 6% of the country’s GDP. If the beaches are filled with plastic waste, tourists will stop visiting.

In May, Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada recommitted to the country’s pledge. Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy are working with the United Nations Development Program and local governments to institute a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by the year 2021. The plan is to replace these plastics with renewable materials that can biodegrade within six months. Costa Rica hopes to continue its global leadership on environmental and climate issues when the country hosts PreCOP25, an international meeting preceding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25), later this year. PreCOP25 will be held Oct. 8-10 at the National Convention Center and the COP25 will be held in December in Chile.

What other countries are doing to reduce plastic waste Canada joined the global movement to ban single-use plastics by 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced on June 10, 2019. Perú, in November 2018, prohibited single-use plastics from being brought into any of their 76 natural and cultural protected areas, like Machu Picchu, or national museums. Many cities and countries around the world have banned plastic straws and/or plastic bags. The world’s first plastic-free flight took to the skies just after Christmas 2018, operated by Portuguese airline Hi Fly that replaced plastic cutlery and containers with bamboo and compostable alternatives crafted from recycled material. The airline aims to adopt a plastic-free policy on all its flights by the end of 2019. The governments of 187 countries agreed to a legally binding framework that controls the movement of plastic waste between national borders, in order to curb the world’s plastic crisis. The deal was struck on May 10, 2019, after 1,400 representatives met for 12 days of discussions at a United Nations Environment Program meeting in Geneva. The United States – the largest exporter of plastic waste in the world – did not agree to add plastic to Annex II of the 1989 Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous materials from one country to another. The ruling will still apply to the United States when it tries to trade plastic waste to virtually any country in the world. Nearly 1 million people signed a global petition in May (2019) urging the governments of the Basel Convention to prevent countries from dumping millions of tons of plastic waste in poor, developing countries instead of recycling it.

What you can do to stop plastic waste As individuals, we can help turn the tide to greatly reduce global plastic waste by making lifestyle changes. You might think your contribution is small, but together our collective action is powerful. Every single person must be part of the solution to protect the planet. Don’t be part of the plastic problem – reduce, reuse, and recycle! Drink from reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones. Bring your own reusable shopping and produce bags to markets; use bags made of cloth and other durable or recyclable materials. Wash/rinse plastic bags that you use for shopping, for vegetables and fruits, etc. and reuse them. Bring your own reusable coffee cup and drink cup when going out to get beverages. If you forget, at least refuse the plastic beverage top. Say “No” to plastic straws in restaurants and food stands. If you must have a straw, bring your own reusable stainless steel or bamboo one. Bring a reusable container to a restaurant with you when you expect to have leftovers. Don’t purchase or use plastic wrap. Recycle responsibly the plastics (and other items) you use and no longer need. Don’t litter and pick up trash when you see it to dispose of properly. Support local initiatives and lobby your country’s government to ban single-use plastics – such as plastic cups, bags, and cutlery.

Plastic in Numbers (from the WWF)

  • 150 million = metric tons of plastic now found in the world’s oceans.
  • 300 million = tons of plastic produced globally each year.
  • 24 billion = items of plastic litter thrown away annually.
  • 12 percent = amount of plastic that is recycled on average globally every year.
  • Five trillion = pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans.
  • 11,000 = pieces of microplastic ingested by humans each year from seafood.
  • 780,000 = pieces of microplastic humans will ingest by the end of the century if trends continue.

The worst litter offenders most likely to end up in our oceans:

  • Cigarette filters
  • Wet wipes
  • Sanitary napkins
  • Cotton buds
  • Disposable drink cups and lids
  • Plastic drink bottles
  • Food containers
  • Snack food packaging
  • Straws
  • Candy and gum wrappers

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Juan Carlos Ramírez
Marketing Assistant
Hello, I’m Juan Carlos Ramírez. I’ve got a background in Advertising and currently work in tourism, which is a perfect fit for my love of blending creativity with strategy. Beyond the office, I’m passionate about architecture, history, and video games. Exploring the beauty of buildings, uncovering the past, and going on virtual adventures are some of my favorite things. Let’s connect and share some awesome experiences!

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