22 August 2019: Bahrain, Pakistan, the San Francisco International Airport and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (The R&A) in Scotland have joined the growing number of countries and entities that have banned single-use plastics. Their actions aim to contribute to reducing plastic pollution and promoting a cleaner environment. At the same time, analysis by National Geographic finds that some US states have taken the opposite action, by placing bans on bans.

The Government of Bahrain implemented a multi-phase ministerial that will regulate and phase out the use of plastic bags. In July 2019, Bahrain prohibited the use of single-use plastic bags and banned the import of non-biodegradable plastic bags. In future phases, the government plans to implement a permanent ban on the use of plastic bags at supermarkets and malls and will issue guidelines for manufacturers and suppliers to reduce plastic waste.

The Government of Pakistan has banned single-use plastic bags in its capital city, Islamabad. Beginning on 14 August, the city has ended the manufacturing, trading and sale of plastic bags. Any consumers using single-use plastic bags will face a fine and anyone selling or manufacturing them will also be fined. The initiative is part of Pakistan’s “10 Billion Tree Tsunami”, which aims to plant 10 billion trees as part of the country’s efforts to tackle climate change, avoid land degradation and build resilience. Following Islamabad’s announcement, the Punjab government announced it will ban bags in the province.

The administration of San Francisco International Airport announced it will phase out plastic bottle on its premises, with the aim of becoming the first zero-waste airport by 2021. The airport is encouraging passengers to bring their own recyclable aluminum bottles for use at the airport’s water fountains and hydration stations.

In Scotland, The R&A, which organizes The Open, the oldest major golf championship in the world, banned the use of single-use plastic water bottles at the tournament. The R&A Assistant Director of Sustainability, Philip Russell, said the club used over 100,000 single-use plastic bottles to supply water to players, officers, staff and fans in previous years. In 2019, Russell said The R&A “sought a radically different and innovative solution” and developed The Open Water Initiative, with the support of UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) and the Clean Seas Campaign. Through this initiative, The R&A installed 19 water stations to provide free, purified local water, handed out over 5,000 stainless steel refillable bottles and encouraged fans to bring their own refillable water bottles. Russell stressed the tournament offers a “powerful platform to raise awareness about environmental issues” and the role of the golf industry in raising awareness on marine plastic pollution and restoring the health of the world’s oceans.

National Geographic released a map that shows the US states that have banned certain plastics as well as US states that have banned bans on plastics. California was the first state to ban plastic bags, New York will ban plastic bags at retailers beginning in 2020, and Maine has a ban on single-use polystyrene containers. The US has a nation-wide ban on the use of microbeads, but other legislation on plastics is within the jurisdiction of individual US states. According to National Geographic, 17 US states have declared it illegal to ban plastic items, “effectively placing a ban on a ban.”

In press briefings, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés welcomed Pakistan’s ban and congratulated the San Francisco International Airport administration on its decision to ban plastic bottles. She said such initiatives help promote climate actions, tackle climate change and encourage institutional and individual action to foster a greener, more sustainable world. Garcés selected environment and climate action, one of the priorities of her Presidency. She launched a global campaign against plastic pollution to contribute to cleaner waters and oceans. As part of this campaign, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has signed and launched ‘The Antigua and Barbuda Declaration,’ which aims to encourage all Caribbean countries to act to eliminate the use of single-use plastics and end pollution of the oceans. The Campaign focuses on global advocacy in collaboration with UN Member States and UN agencies to reach the public, and internal initiatives to reduce plastic use within the UN.

As of July 2018, 127 countries of 192 had adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags, according to a global review of national laws and regulations on single-use plastics by UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The report finds “surging momentum” for addressing plastic bags while other harmful single-use products, such as microbeads, remain “largely overlooked.” The report concludes that enhanced awareness and concern over marine plastic litter and microplastics will contribute to increased support for controlling the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic products, which will in turn support the reduction of marine litter, protection of the world’s water resources and achievement of SDG 14 (life below water). [Bahrain Press Release] [Government of Pakistan Plastic Bag Ban] [Pakistan Today News Story] [San Francisco Airport Press Release] [UNGA Spokesperson Press Briefing] [UNGA President Environment and Climate Action Priorities] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Antigua and Barbuda Declaration] [UNEP Press Release] [National Geographic News Story] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Global Review of Plastic Regulation]