Trash in the saw grass at the Big Cypress National Preserve Park.
Jeff Greenberg | Universal Images Group | Getty Images
The U.S. Interior Department said on Wednesday it will phase out the sale of single-use plastic products in national parks and other public lands by 2032, in an attempt to mitigate a major contributor to plastic pollution as the country’s recycling rate continues to decline.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order to reduce the procurement, sale and distribution of such products and packaging on more than 480 million acres of public lands, and to identify more sustainable alternatives like compostable or biodegradable materials.
The measure would help to reduce the more than 14 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year. Under the order, single-use plastic products refer to items that are disposed of immediately after use, like plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers, bottles, straws, cups, cutlery and disposable plastic bags.
In 2011, some national parks imposed a ban on plastic water bottle sales in an effort to reduce waste and recycling costs. The restrictions resulted in the removal of up to 2 million water bottles per year before the Trump administration rolled back the ban six years later.
The U.S. is one of the world’s largest producers of plastic waste. The country’s recycling rate fell to between 5% and 6% last year, according to estimations in a report from environmental groups Last Beach Clean Up and Beyond Plastics, as some countries stopped taking U.S. waste exports and waste levels reached new highs.
The Interior Department said it produced nearly 80,000 tons of municipal solid waste in fiscal year 2020.
“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” Haaland said in a statement.
“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.”
Environmental groups praised the announcement.
“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,” said Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director for Oceana, an ocean conservation organization.