The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced it will phase out sales of plastic water bottles and other single-use plastic products at all national parks and on other public lands over the next 10 years.
Secretary’s Order 3407, issued by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Wednesday, calls for the department to reduce the purchase, sale, and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging on 480 million acres of federally managed lands, and completely phase out the products’ use by 2032. It also stipulates that the department will identify alternatives to single-use plastics, such as compostable or biodegradable materials or 100 percent recycled materials.
“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” Secretary Haaland said in a statement.
“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,” Secretary Haaland wrote. “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 announcement was met with praise by conservation groups, which have been championing the cause for years.
“The Department of Interior’s single-use plastic ban will curb millions of pounds of unnecessary disposable plastic in our national parks and other public lands, where it can end up polluting these special areas and the oceans and waterways in and around them,” Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign coordinator at Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, said, according to Reuters.
A Growing Problem
Reducing plastic waste is an environmental priority. Consider, for instance, that in 2016, the United States generated 42 million metric tons of plastic waste — more than any other country in the world, according to a 2020 study published in Science Advances.
Since then, however, the problem has continued to get worse. In her statement, Haaland explained that less than 10 percent of the plastic that has ever been produced has been recycled — and recycling rates aren’t getting better.
“Our ocean is downstream of all pollution sources and bears the brunt of the impacts: Of the more than 300 million tons of plastic produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80 percent of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments,” Haaland wrote. “Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and death, and plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.”
What The Order Means
Secretary Haaland’s order, which, in turn, falls under President Biden’s Executive Order 14057 calling for federal agencies to minimize waste and support markets for recycled products, explains that single-use plastic products include plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers, as well as bottles, straws, cups, cutlery, and disposable plastic bags intended to be used once and discarded. Use of those products will be phased out at all national parks and on other public lands by 2023.
The order also calls for the Interior Department to identify nonhazardous, environmentally preferable alternatives to single-use plastic products.
Those alternatives include “bottles made of bio-based plastic, glass, and aluminum, and laminated cartons can replace single-use plastic bottles, as can reusable bottles made of glass, aluminum, or stainless steel,” the order explains. Likewise, “bags made of paper, bioplastics, and composite can replace single use plastic bags, as can reusable cloth or thicker plastic alternatives.”
Finally, similar materials may be used to replace single-use plastic used in food packaging, beverage cups, tableware, and other products, which gives the Interior Department “a range of options to consider in this effort to account for the variety of geographic locations and social contexts,” the order explains.
Support For The Change
In an effort to reduce plastic litter, the National Park Service instituted a policy to encourage national parks to end the sale of bottled water in 2011. Consequently, 23 out of 417 national parks, including Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, put restrictions on bottled water sales in place. Instead, those parks encouraged visitors to use refillable bottles filled with tap water.
Then, in a move that sided with subsequent complaints from suppliers of bottled water, the Trump administration ended that Obama-era policy in 2017.
The Interior Department’s new order, which ends the Trump administration policy, is being celebrated by environmental groups.
“We applaud President Biden and Interior Secretary 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,” Leavitt at Oceana, said, according to The Guardian.
Oceana further notes that a national poll conducted in November 2021 found that more than 80 percent of American voters said they would support a decision by the National Park Service to stop selling single-use plastics at national parks, according to the Associated Press.
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