Yesterday, in an effort to curb plastic waste, the US Department of Interior announced that the sale of single-use plastic products on public lands and national parks would get phased out by 2032. The proclamation from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland comes hot on the heels of last month’s findings from non-profit The Last Beach Cleanup and grassroots organization Beyond Plastics that the US recycling rate had dropped to a disappointing 5%.
According to the order, the planned reduction would include “plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers, bottles, straws, cups, cutlery, and disposable plastic bags.” While the outright ban would go into effect in 2032, this will give the US government time to seek alternatives to plastic bottles for parkgoers and tourists, whether that’s in the form of water refill stations or truly biodegradable and compostable packaging.
Previously, in 2011, the National Park Service issued a memorandumdiscouraging the sale of single-use plastic water bottles, leaving it up to the individual national parks. That ban was lifted by the Trump administration in 2017, citing that visitors to the public lands should have the freedom of choice “to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.”
“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate. As the steward 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 uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth,” said Secretary Haaland in a statement. “Today’s Order will ensure that the Department’s sustainability plans include bold action on phasing out single-use plastic products as we seek to protect our natural environment and the communities around them.”
The planned reduction of single-use plastics in our National Parks is a welcome step in tackling the plastic crisis, albeit a drop in the bucket. It’s also a good reminder that the only way to curb single-use plastics in the US is through outright bans and extended producer responsibility (EPR) bills because the brands aren’t going to do it for you.
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