Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a bill Wednesday that prohibits the sale of single-use plastic bags in 102 coastal villages and towns in a bid to stop the build-up of ocean plastic and to "[take] care of our marine ecosystems."
Businesses found using and distributing plastic bags could face a US$300 fine, Telesur reported about the legislation.
In addition to banning plastic bags, the Chilean government plans to create 1.6 million square kilometers of marine conservation areas by 2018, AFP reported. The bill also welcomes non-coastal areas to join in the program to restrict or eliminate plastic bags.
"Our fish are dying from plastics ingestion or strangulation—it's a task in which everyone must collaborate," Bachelet said in a speech at the beach resort city of Pichilemu.
According to the Environment Ministry (via Bloomberg BNA), Chile goes through more than 3.4 billion plastic bags per year, with 97 percent ending up in landfills, becoming illegally dumped, or ending up in oceans.
"We will ... become the first country in the Americas to implement a law of this type and we call on other countries to assume this responsibility," Bachelet said last month at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Bloomberg BNA also noted that 50 of Chile's 345 municipal districts have already regulated plastic bag usage to some degree, including banning shops from providing plastic bags, limiting the number of bags a customer can receive, or encouraging stores to switch to reusable bags.
Environmental advocates praised the ban. "We hope that parliamentarians will support this initiative which is good for the country," said Ricardo Bosshard, the head of World Wildlife Fund Chile.
On social media, many cheered the move with the hashtag #chaobolsasplásticas, or "bye plastic bags."
Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico, thanked Bachelet for her work and said that Mexico will join Chile in the effort to protect the biodiversity of our seas.
Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations Environment Program tweeted, "Great news from Chile! A ban plastic bags in over 100 coastal areas!"