Costa Rica Wants to Become World's First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

Costa Rica wants to become the world's first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

The Central American nation intends to replace these wasteful, ocean-clogging items—such as plastic store bags, straws, coffee stirrers, containers and plastic cutlery—for biodegradable or water-soluble alternatives, or products made of renewable materials (think plant starches).

The initiative is led by Costa Rica's Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from local governments, civil society and various private sector groups.

Costa Rican government officials announced the country's ambitious plan on June 5, World Environment Day.

"Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission," according to a joint statement from Environment and Energy minister Edgar Gutiérrez, Health minister María Esther Anchía, and Alice Shackelford, resident representative for UNDP Costa Rica.

"It's not going to be easy, and the government can't do it alone," the statement continues. "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," the statement notes.

Costa Rica has emerged as an global environmental leader, with its frequent 100 percent renewable energy streaks and its 2021 goal of becoming carbon neutral—a deadline set a decade ago.

However, the officials point out in their statement that Costa Rica's impressive environmental record still has room for improvement.

"Although the country has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent this year, today one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily is not collected and ends up as part of the Costa Rican landscape, also polluting rivers and beaches," they explain.

"Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world," they add. "It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish—measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone."

"It's a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet."

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