U.S. to phase out single-use plastics on public land by 2032

On World Ocean Day June 8, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued Secretary’s Order 3407, which aims to reduce the procurement, sale and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging with a goal of phasing out single-use plastic products on Department-managed lands by 2032. The Order is part of the implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order 14057, which calls for federal agencies to minimize waste and support markets for recycled products.

The Order also directs the Department to identify nonhazardous, environmentally preferable alternatives to single-use plastic products, such as compostable or biodegradable materials, or 100 percent recycled materials. Single-use plastic products include plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers, bottles, straws, cups, cutlery and disposable plastic bags that are designed for or intended to be used once and discarded.

“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate. As the steward of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, we are uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth,” said Secretary Haaland. 

“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.”

Plastic waste is a priority environmental problem. Less than 10 percent of the plastic that has ever been produced has been recycled, and recycling rates are not increasing. Plastics, including unnecessary and easily substituted single-use plastic products, are devastating fish and wildlife around the world.

The ocean is downstream of all pollution sources and bears the brunt of the impacts: of the more than 300 million tons of plastic produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year and plastic makes up 80 percent of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. 

Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and death, and plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.

Bags made of paper, bioplastics and composite can replace single use plastic bags, as can reusable cloth or thicker plastic alternatives. Bottles made of bio-based plastic, glass and aluminum, and laminated cartons can replace single use plastic bottles, as can reusable bottles made of glass, aluminum or stainless steel. 

Similar materials can replace single use plastic in food packaging, beverage cups, tableware, and other products, giving the Interior Department a range of options to consider in this effort to account for the variety of geographic locations and social contexts in which Departmental facilities operate.

Photo credit: iStock/jaochainoi

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