US government to ban single-use plastic in national parks

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<span>Photograph: Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

The Biden administration is to phase out single-use plastic products on US public lands, including the vast network of American national parks, in an attempt to stem the huge tide of plastic pollution that now extends to almost every corner of the world.

The US Department of the Interior will halt the sale of single-use plastics in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands, though not entirely until 2032, with a reduction planned in the meantime. The government will look to identify environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic bottles, packaging and other products, such as compostable materials.

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Previously, national parks were able to ban the sale of plastic water bottles but this was stopped by Donald Trump when he was president. The Trump administration echoed the sentiments of the bottled water industry in preventing the ban.

The new plastics ban will eventually span 480m acres of federal land, a size about four times larger than Spain, and will cut the 80,000 tons of waste the Department of the Interior creates each year.

“The interior department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” said Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior.

Plastic pollution is now widespread across the US and the rest of the world, with trillions of tiny pieces of plastic found in the oceans, where much of the waste ends up. Plastics are so pervasive they have been found in the lungs of people and in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

The growing production of cheap, disposable plastics has been exacerbated by a falling recycling rate, which has dipped to about 5% in the US following some countries’ refusal to take shipments of American waste.

“We applaud president Biden and US interior secretary Deb Haaland for recognizing the devastating impact single-use plastic is having on our planet and taking meaningful action to keep this persistent pollutant out of our oceans and communities,” said Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director at Oceana, which estimates that 33bn pounds of plastic enter the marine environment every year.

“We urge the secretary and interior department to move swiftly to carry out these changes to protect our parks from single-use plastic.”

The White House has also used World Oceans Day, on Wednesday, to announce the start of a process to name a new national marine sanctuary off the coast of New York. The Hudson Canyon, located about 100 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, is considered an ecological hotspot for species including sperm wales and sea turtles, as well as cold water coral reefs.

“This is New York and New Jersey’s Grand Canyon – an ecologically rich area with diverse species including sharks, whales and dolphins, deep sea corals, sharks and birds,” said Simon Cripps, executive director for marine conservative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“It is a natural treasure worthy of designation as a national marine sanctuary.”

A public comment period on the boundaries of the new protected area will now begin.