Costa Rica Sets Goal To Become The First Country To Ban Single-Use Plastic

Costa Rica is making a huge choice to ban single-use plastic after years of sustainability practices that have improved the country's tourism.


Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:40 p.m. ET

The Costa Rica's Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy has announced a new initiative supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that would ban all single use plastics in Costa Rica by 2021. EcoWatch reports that the decision was released in June for World Environment Day, then in mid-July there was a joint statement on the UNDP website from Environment and Energy minister Edgar Gutiérrez, Health minister María Esther Anchía, and Alice Shackelford, who represents UNDP for Costa Rica on their plan.

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Costa Rica News reports the alternative is made from a cellulose acetate, which is extracted from plants, mostly yucca starch or chitin out of the exoskeleton of shrimps. Chemistry students Daniela Palomo, José Eduardo Castro and Sebastián Hernández, at the Universidad de Costa Rica, experimented with material made out of bananas. They created a substance that disintegrated within 18 months and also released a pesticide treatment as it melted. 

According to their post, Costa Rica produces 4,000 tons of solid waste every year, and about one fifth of that is never collected, meaning it pollutes the country's beautiful forests and beaches. Single-use plastics are a huge part of that litter, and as they mention, by 2050 it's estimated there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The plan is to replace single-use plastic with water soluble products that disintegrate within six months, as opposed to the hundreds of years it takes for a plastic cup to decompose.

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UNDP urged the citizens of Costa Rica to join in with the 2021 goal in mind, as the change requires the help of everyone:

"It's not going to be easy, and the government can't do it alone," they said. "To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic through five strategic actions: municipal incentives, policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers; replacement of single-use plastic products; research and development—and investment in strategic initiatives.

"We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls," they continued.

They'll probably have good luck with appealing to the Costa Rican people, as the country has a reputation for moving towards sustainability, which has made it a popular attraction for eco-tourists, and has worked to run on renewable energy and rebuild their forest, doubling their cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent by 2017. The end of single-use plastic is another big step on their green path.

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