In a fantastic example of environmental leadership, Costa Rica has cemented its plans to ban all single-use plastics by 2021. The national strategy to phase out all single-use plastics was first revealed on World Environment Day last year and is part of the nation’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2021. But, crucially, the single-use plastics strategy is not just about eliminating these extremely harmful plastics. It’s about incentivising alternatives. With support from the United Nations Development Plan, an online platform has been developed that allows citizens and businesses to follow the country’s progress, get inspired by others’ initiatives and register their own products and alternative materials. Alongside other incentives and investments, it’s already paying off: Costa Rican college students are developing a product made from bananas set to be five times stronger than plastic, yet able to disintegrate in just 18 months. Research and development of other plastic alternatives made from ingredients as diverse as crustacean shells, seaweed, cassava, corn, bamboo and brewing byproducts is booming.
In many areas, Costa Rica is setting an example for the rest of the world: the country has reversed deforestation, with forest cover now at 52%, ran entirely on renewable energy for 250 days in 2016, and has been careful to include marginalised people in its plan for carbon neutrality. However, roughly one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced in Costa Rica each day is not collected. Instead, it ends up in the environment, polluting the rivers and ocean and posing a serious threat to wildlife. In banning single-use plastics in a mere three years’ time, the Costa Rican government is setting a huge challenge for its people and businesses. Alternatives will need to be 100% recyclable or biodegradable and not petroleum-based, and the race is on to develop these products in time to ensure a smooth transition. But the government believes this strategy is necessary in order to effectively tackle the issue, which is a huge block in Costa Rica’s path towards carbon neutrality.
“Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission. It’s not going to be easy, and the government can’t do it alone. To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic […]. We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls.”
– Edgar Gutiérrez, former Minister of Environment and Energy.
Ways to Help
There are so many fantastic resources online covering ways to reduce your reliance on plastics, single-use and otherwise. Here are two of my favourite infographics: simple, clear and actionable!