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The rise and demise of plastic shopping bags in Chile: Broad and informal coalition supporting ban as a first step to reduce single-use plastics
M. Amenabar Cristi, C. Holzapfel, M. Nehls, D. De Veer, C. Gonzalez, G. Holtmann, ..., M. Thiel

The rise and demise of plastic shopping bags in Chile: Broad and informal coalition supporting ban as a first step to reduce single-use plastics

Ocean & Coastal Management, 187, [105079]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.105079

Single-use plastic bags (SUPBs) were introduced to society as a way to facilitate our daily lives, but due to their low post-use value they are found as litter in many different environments, from urban to rural and remote, natural environments. Given the increasing awareness about environmental litter, many communities have banned SUPBs in the recent past. Here we explore an emerging economy to document the rise and demise of SUPBs in society. Through a review of scientific and grey literature (including governmental documents and media coverage) we reconstruct the timeline of SUPBs in Chile, including the development of the plastic industry and retail business within Chile, the introduction, spread and finally the demise of SUPBs. Focused on the demise phase, we document the creation and succession of municipal ordinances to reduce SUPBs in local commerce, and the development of a national law to regulate the use of SUPBs. In order to document the involvement of the general public during the demise phase, we also examined current behavior and behavioral intentions of people in (i) a local project introducing reusable cloth bags to reduce the use of SUPBs, and (ii) a consumer survey about public perception of SUPBs and their use. Plastic bags were introduced in Chile in the 1970s, then spread with the emergence of supermarkets and retail stores in the 1980s and 1990s, and were widely used in commerce by the turn of the century. During the first decade of the 21st century the first scientific studies reported large amounts of plastic litter and high proportions of single-use plastics in coastal environments, public awareness grew, and numerous initiatives aiming to reduce consumption and littering of plastics developed. The first municipal ban of SUPBs in 2013 was emulated during the following five years by 62 other Chilean municipalities and in 2018 translated into a national law, which was highly approved and supported by the population. We conclude that the ban of SUBPs in Chile was facilitated by a broad concern among the general public, which led to a bottom-up movement culminating in the national government taking stakes in the issue. Finally, we argue that this can only be a first step that must be followed by further actions to abolish single-use products in order to effectively protect the environment and in particular the world's oceans.