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Chile protects the oceans from single-use plastic pollution and mandates the sale and use of refillable bottles

CEO Note: Chile protects the oceans from single-use plastic pollution and mandates the sale and use of refillable bottles

BY ANDY SHARPLESS   MAY 28, 2021Last week, Chile’s government enacted a law to reduce single-use plastics thanks to campaigning by Oceana and allies. The law is the first of its kind and is based on a 2019 proposal[i] from Oceana and Plastic Oceans Chile. It requires restaurants, bars, cafes, and other food service establishments to eliminate single-use plastic and to transition to more sustainable tableware and product packaging. This change could eliminate an estimated 23,000 tons of single-use plastic pollution each year, equivalent in weight to 116 blue whales. 

The law also requires supermarkets and stores that sell soft drinks to offer these beverages in refillable bottles (in place of single-use containers). Chile produces more solid municipal waste per capita than Mexico and Brazil, despite both countries having much larger economies. Seventy-five percent of the waste found on Chile’s coastline is plastic, and only 8.5% of the plastic Chile uses is recycled. This legislation, which comes after three years of advocacy and campaigning by Oceana, tackles Chile’s plastic problem and positions it as one of the world leaders in reducing single-use plastics and disposable foodware.

The new law eliminates and reduces the use of plastic utensils, cups, lids, trays, bottles, containers, and more. As in other countries, these items are thrown away after one use and generally NOT recycled. Instead, the plastic ends up in landfills, and in some cases, in the oceans where marine life, like sea turtles, can swallow or get entangled in plastic. This can cause injury or death to these animals.In six months following the enactment of the law, all eating establishments will be prohibited from providing plastic tableware and required to provide reusable alternatives to their customers. Delivery services must offer plastic-free disposable alternatives. The law encourages citizens to actively participate in the implementation and enforcement of standards by empowering anyone to report infractions. Wayward restaurants can be fined $357 per product and supermarkets can be fined $1,379 per reported incident.Separately, the law requires supermarkets to display, sell, and receive refillable bottles in six months following enactment of the new law. After three years these establishments must have at least 30% of the soft drinks on display for sale be refillables (compared to the 0% of refillables present in most supermarkets). These bottles, because they are reused 20 to 50 times, replace a huge amount of single-use plastic.

An Oceana report[ii], in 2020, found that a 10% market share increase in refillable bottles would eliminate 5 billion single-use plastic bottles on an annual basis.  Javiera Calisto, legal director for Oceana in Chile, said “the law aims to change a paradigm, leaving behind the culture of disposables and recovering what is reusable.” Chile’s new law will help set a high standard for plastics policies around the world. At Oceana, we are campaigning in many countries to pass similar national legislation to reduce single-use plastics, like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in the United States. Chile’s progress is evidence that we can turn the tide.

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