Great news! Chile has just become the first country in South America to ban the widespread use of plastic bags! The new measure, approved by Congress and enacted by President Sebastián Piñera, is one part of the country’s efforts to reduce plastic pollution.

“We want to go from a throwaway culture, where everything is used and chucked away, to the healthy culture of recycling,” said President Piñera, who handed out reusable cloth bags at the ceremony announcing the ban. “There are 7.6 billion inhabitants in the world. We can’t continue polluting as if each one of us owned the Earth.”

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Following the implementation of the ban, small shops have two years to adapt to the total ban on plastic bags, while larger businesses will have six months to stop using the product, MercoPress reports. Before the transitory period is over, they will be allowed to hand out only two bags per customer. Businesses that do not adhere to the rules will face a fine of $370.

The anti-plastic ban was proposed by Piñera’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, who implemented a ban on the use of plastic bags in the Patagonia region.

Non-biodegradable, single-use plastic bags are among the worst plastic pollutants that make their way into the environment. Once plastic bags make their way into waterways, they pose a serious threat to marine animals who confuse them for food (a plastic bag looks a lot like a jellyfish in the water) and can also easily entrap unassuming marine life, causing them to asphyxiate. In addition to the immediate threat to marine animals, plastic bags photodegrade over time, releasing methane into the atmosphere as well as microplastic particles that can remain in circulation for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Around 80 percent of marine litter originates on land, and most of it is plastic. Because of the threat they pose, plastic bags have already been banned in many cities and by a great number of retail companies. Bans and taxes on bags have been proven to work – and Chile is leading the way as the first country on the continent to introduce this positive change among its businesses. We certainly hope to see more and more countries taking action as the rising tide turns against plastic.

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To find out how you can be a part of the change by avoiding plastic items like bags, cups, and more, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!

Image source: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flicker