Technology & Science

How to ban plastics the right way, according to the UN

Government bans on plastic can be effective in cutting back on waste, but poor follow-through has left many such bans ineffective, the U.N. said in a Tuesday report offering advice to other countries contemplating a ban.

Report released today for World Environment Day, with 2018 theme 'Beat Plastic Pollution'

An Indian rag picker collects plastic bags at an industrial area on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. India is hosting this year's World Environment Day. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

Government bans on plastic can be effective in cutting back on waste, but poor follow-through has left many such bans ineffective, the U.N. said in a Tuesday report.

The report, with its release timed for U.N. World Environment Day, noted that rules limiting the use of plastic bags had decreased their use in places such as Morocco, Rwanda and parts of China, sometimes significantly. But elsewhere things haven't gone so well.

A ban on disposable plastics in New Delhi, for instance, has had only limited impact "because of poor enforcement," the report said.

New Delhi has tried repeatedly over the past decade to ban the use of thin plastic bags, most recently announcing a heavy fine for rule-breakers. But the bags remain ubiquitous across the city, blowing in the wind, piled in ditches and readily offered in hundreds of thousands of shops. Elsewhere in India, including the states of Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh, there have been better results. India is hosting this year's World Environment Day.

An earthmover clears garbage from the shores of the Arabian Sea in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The U.N. says government bans on plastic can be effective in cutting back on waste but poor planning and follow-through have left many such bans ineffective. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)

"Plastic pollution is a huge issue everywhere," U.N. Environment chief Erik Solheim told The Associated Press in an interview. He praised India for its growing focus on environmental protection but also noted that while traveling in the country he'd seen "some of the most beautiful scenic places, but destroyed by plastic pollution."

"So the problem is big, but the ability to change is also big," Solheim said.

The U.N. made a series of recommendations to make plastics bans more effective, from encouraging more cooperation from businesses to offering incentives like tax rebates.

The report notes that by some estimates, as many as 5 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.

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