KT Edit: More than a plastic solution: global efforts, local action

Many governments have banned single-use plastic and encouraged the use of local, indigenous alternatives such as jute and leafbased products. Globally, the multilateral environment agreements called BRS (Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm) Conventions took effect from January this year to help tackle global trade in plastic, which has seen wealthy nations dump contaminated plastic waste on poorer countries. Over 60 countries — coastal and landlocked — have signed up to the UN Environment Programme’s ‘Clean Seas’ campaign to fight marine litter and plastic pollution. Here are some leading country initiatives:

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Plastic pollution in sea reaches alarming levels
Plastic pollution in sea reaches alarming levels

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Thu 9 Dec 2021, 9:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Dec 2021, 9:02 PM


San Pedro La Laguna, a Mayan village, is leading the movement against single-use plastics in the country, establishing a zero-tolerance policy in 2016, inspiring others. The government collected all plastics from community members and gave them complimentary reusable or biodegradable alternatives and handmade rubber basket bags. Villagers have returned to ancestral methods using hoja del maxán (large leaves) to package meat and cloth napkins to carry tortillas.


Canada declared plastic a ‘toxic’ substance in May this year, paving the way for a ban on most single-use plastics by the end of the year. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “To be honest, as a dad, it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags? How do I tell them that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean?”

Costa Rica

In 2021, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to eliminate plastic bags, bottles, cutlery, straws, and coffee stirrers, seeking to replace 80 per cent of the country’s disposable plastic packaging with non-petroleum renewable materials which can biodegrade within six months, even in a marine environment. Renewable choices include cassava bags, sugar cane takeaway boxes, and wooden coffee stirrers. The country was awarded the 2019 Champions of the Earth honor — the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade.


Kenya’s plastic bag ban introduced in 2017 is considered the strictest in the world. Anyone found producing or selling a plastic bag faces up to four years’ imprisonment, or a fine of up to $40,000. The only exemption is for manufacturers who use polythene to wrap products. The ban was introduced after it was revealed that 24 million plastic bags were being used each month, and UNEP discovered that cows slaughtered in Nairobi regularly had up to 20 bags in their stomachs, sparking fears over plastic contamination in the food chain.


Rwanda reportedly became the world’s first ‘plastic-free’ nation in 2009, 10 years after it introduced a ban on all plastic bags and plastic packaging. Anyone who is caught with a plastic item faces a jail sentence of up to six months.

On entering a border post into the country, vehicles are searched and any plastic bags or packaging are confiscated before they enter the country.


Several grassroots movements are active in the country to replace plastics. Alternatives include straws made of agave fibers or avocado pits; cutlery made of cornstarch; Kraft paper bags; Greenware cups and containers made from plants; and hot beverage cups made of bamboo fibers, which are certified to be 100 percent compostable. Campaign group Cero Basura Yucatán is among several charities leading the way towards plastic replacements with frequent workshops, zero-waste markets, and plastic elimination tips.


One of the countries where deposit return schemes are a success, customers since 2013 pay a small deposit on every bottle of soft or alcoholic drink. The scheme has seen almost 99 per cent of the country’s plastic bottles returned for recycling. Glass bottles are also accepted, and sent back to manufacturers for cleaning and refilling. In July 2021, Germany banned the sale of single-use plastic straws, cutlery, cotton buds and food containers in line with an EU-wide directive intended to reduce plastic waste.

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