The use of plastic bags is a broad and naturalized practice for Chileans. This is how, without realizing it, every Chilean uses an average of 1,5 daily bags and, according to the statistics given by the Association of Plastic Industries (Asipla), this translates to over 7 million in our country, every day. A total of 3.4 million plastic bags are used every year with a useful life span of less that 15 days that, nevertheless, take more than 400 years to degrade. This situation gets even worse if we consider the fact that less than 1% of them get recycled.
This generates more than two thousand tons of garbage, most of it being disposed in dumping sites that later end in the ocean. As a consequence of these and other residues made of this material, most of the ocean birds have eaten plastic, and it is expected that by 2050, 99% of birds would have consumed it. Naturally, most of them get sick and die, just as other sea creatures.
Now, seven cities in southern Chile have taken responsibility on the matter by installing different measures to reduce and eradicate their use, in a real effort to minimize the environmental impact and make people aware of this issue. The pioneer city of Pucón, where the forbidding use of plastic bags is a fact for 2 years now, was followed by cities such as Cochrane, Coyhaique, Hualpén, Puerto Natales and, after many difficulties, also Punta Arenas.
Afterwards, Puerto Varas announced the installment of a gradual process that, just as in the other cities, meant that from a start, the shopkeepers gave up a maximum of three plastic bags per sale, then two and, for a few weeks now, only one. Puerto Varas also made news recently in terms of the environment with their “Clean Production Agreement” called “Sustainable Tourism in Puerto Varas City”, looking to become the first carbon neutral destination in Chile.
The Los Rios region is walking on the same path, since they are the first to regulate the amount of plastic bags delivered on every district. The purpose is not a total and immediate prohibition, but to generate agreements with the business sector in order to diminish their use through by-laws and voluntary adhesion. Just as in Puerto Varas, the process will be gradual.
The example given by the south of Chile has spread to the north, although in a lower scale, in cities like Santiago and Valparaíso, where the replacement of these bags is encouraged through municipal incentives. It is expected, then, that in a close future, more cities in the country will join this green initiative.