World first, Chile bans single-use catering products for three years

  • In May 2021, Chile announced a legislative ban on single-use products in the food and beverage industry that will take effect over the next three years.
  • Similar bans in other countries and cities also tackle the heart of the plastic pollution problem – throwaway culture – but Chile’s ban also extends to other materials, including cardboard and paper. poly-coated.
  • In the lobbying process, the Chilean plastics association raised some concerns about the intricacies of the ban, but said it was ultimately “satisfied with the result”.

New legislation passed by the Chilean government in May 2021 aims to rid the country of all single-use products from the food and drink industry, including plastics, within three years. It is the first national legislation in the world to implement a ban on single-use F&B products, such as those made of plastic, cardboard and other materials, instead of only targeting single-use plastics. This also follows Chile’s plastic bag ban in 2019, which was criticized for people swapping disposable plastic bags for disposable paper bags, or overcollection of reusable bags.

Chile produces almost a million tons of plastic waste a year, but only recycles 8.5% of it, according to a 2019 study InvestChile report. In comparison, Europe has a recycling rate of around 30%, according to another 2019 report by the Hamburg-based research company Statista.

The new legislation will significantly reduce Chile’s plastic waste while increasing the country’s plastic recycling rates, experts say. This law is expected to eliminate about 23,000 metric tons of single-use plastic pollution per year – the equivalent in weight of 116 blue whales, according to a 2020 report by the NGO Oceana Chile.

“The plastics industry now realizes that we are not specifically targeting plastics, but the unnecessary use of single-use items,” Javiera Calisto, legal director of Oceana Chile, told Mongabay. Oceana Chile and its partner organizations have been the teams responsible for proposing and lobbying for this new bill for the past three years.

The law aims to reduce waste generation in three main ways: eliminating single-use products in the food and beverage industry, certifying plastic products, and regulating the use and composition of disposable plastic bottles.

“The law establishes different conditions for the entry into force of the respective obligations. Since we are making significant changes, it was very important to be realistic,” Calisto said.

Chile produces almost a million tonnes of plastic waste a year, but only recycles 8.5% of it, according to reports. Image by Chris Hunkeler via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

According to Oceana, plastic tableware like straws, cutlery and stirrers will be banned from all food establishments six months after the law is enacted. Other changes will take up to three years to come into full effect. This includes a requirement that at least 30% of bottled drinks in supermarkets must be packaged in reusable bottles.

Other places around the world have taken similar steps to Chile taking a “hard measure” approach to phasing out single-use plastics. For example, New York, California, Hawaii, Kenya, and the European Union have all banned single-use plastic bags in recent years.

As of July 2018, 127 out of 192 countries have adopted full or partial plastic bag bans, while 57 countries have imposed a plastic bag tax on the producer or consumer at the national level, according to the United Nations Food and Drug Administration Program. ‘environment.

But these laws are far from perfect. Common reviews against increasingly popular plastic bans include the fact that they hurt poor nations and people the most, and simply encourage the adoption of equally harmful alternatives. This was the case when the Chileans started collect huge quantities of reusable bags following the nationwide plastic bag ban in 2019.

The new Chilean law will apply to single-use products, including plastic utensils, poly-coated paper cups, disposable paperboard trays, and single-use chopsticks, as opposed to just single-use plastics. Single-use products have been defined as any F&B utensil that is not “used by the establishment repeatedly in accordance with its design”, regardless of the material from which it is made.

Plastic cutlery pollution.
The new Chilean law will apply to single-use products, including plastic utensils, poly-coated paper cups, disposable paperboard trays, and single-use chopsticks, as opposed to just single-use plastics. Image by Brian Yurasits via Unsplash.

Change in work

Under the legislation, restaurants that fail to comply can be fined up to around 327,000 Chilean pesos ($360) per product, and supermarkets can be fined 1.3 million. pesos ($1,435) per reported case.

Some establishments have already switched to reusable. At Mallplaza Egaña, a shopping center, reusable cutlery and utensils such as plates, cups and stirrers have replaced all single-use plastics in its vegetable gardens.

Antonio Braghetto, franchise operations manager of the Mallplaza shopping center in Chile, told Mongabay in an email that the legislations imposed in Chile in recent years have helped “mobilize organizations” on the path to a zero economy. waste.

The new law could also prove crucial in finally tackling the carbon footprint of the plastics industry.

For example, the law requires that disposable plastic bottles in Chile be made from a percentage of plastic that has been collected and recycled in the country. The Ministry of the Environment will enforce and regulate this process through a plastics certification process. However, the exact percentage, or what qualifies as “recycled” material, is unclear.

Plastic manufacturing is often overlooked as a significant source of carbon emissions. For example, in the United States, plastic manufacturing is expected to exceed emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030. At the same time, recycling rates have never exceeded 9% in the United States, and it has been found that plastic companies have been overestimating the feasibility of recycling plastics since the 1970s, Mongabay previously reported.

“Only upstream measures such as a cap on plastic production will prevent further degradation of our vital ecosystems,” said Melanie Bergmann, plastic pollution and microplastics specialist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, in a statement. previous Mongabay article.

Some establishments have switched to reusable cutlery and utensils
Some establishments have opted for reusable cutlery and utensils such as plates, cups and stirrers instead of single-use plastics. Image courtesy of María Jose Arancibia/Mallplaza.

The prerogative of plastic

An estimated 12-14 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean each year, according to IUCN. It is unclear how much of this can be attributed to single-use plastics, although these are the “most visible” forms of pollution, IUCN plastics expert Joao Sousa told Mongabay in an email.

Yet plastics also have their advantages, Sousa said. Their economical, durable, lightweight and waterproof nature is precisely what makes plastics so versatile and lucrative.

This time, the Chilean Association of Plastics (Asociación Gremial de Industriales del Plástico de Chile, or Asipla for short) participated in the meetings held with the Chilean Senate and other officials for the drafting of the new Chilean law against plastics in Disposable.

“While we were 100% aware of the impact of plastic on the environment, we are also convinced of the many undeniable benefits that plastic has brought to society since its existence,” said Magdalena Balcells, Managing Director of Asipla, in Mongabay.

Without plastics, for example, the world wouldn’t have the face masks (N95 masks are made from synthetic plastic fibers) or the medical equipment needed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seventy-five percent of the trash found on Chilean beaches is plastic waste.
Seventy-five percent of the trash found on Chilean beaches is plastic waste. Image courtesy of Javiera Castilo/Oceana.

“We all want to have less waste in the world – it’s not just plastic, but glass, paper, cardboard and aluminium. But if that’s not doable, we’re doing no favors to the environment,” Balcells added when asked about Asipla’s experience included in Chile’s drafting process this time around.

The different parties “had their differences,” Balcells said. Proposals to completely ban the production of PET bottles or to consider all forms of packaging as single-use materials have been put forward, but were ultimately deemed unworkable. But the parties involved eventually met in the middle.

“We are very happy with the result,” Balcells said. “Although the reach is not huge, it is visible enough for people to change their habits. And that’s a very good thing. »

Banner image: A neighborhood store in Chile with a sign proclaiming that they no longer deliver plastic bags. Image by LuisCG11 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).


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UNEP. (2018). Legal limits on single-use plastics and microplastics: a comprehensive review of national laws and regulations. Extract of


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