PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Plastic and foam food containers are everywhere in this enterprising Caribbean nation clogging canals, cluttering streets and choking ocean wildlife.
Now those pesky black plastic bags made of polyethylene and polystyrene foam cups, plates, trays and other containers that have become as ubiquitous as the vendors who peddle them in street markets are on their way out.
Haitis government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing and marketing them as of Oct. 1.
This is a logical decision and makes sense, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said. Importing, manufacturing bio-degradable items will benefit Haitis short, mid- and long-term environmental interest.
In Haiti the black plastic bags are the primary mode for transporting items among Haitis poor who shuffle back and forth to open air street markets on an almost daily basis. They also are a key, but dangerous, ingredient in curbside cooking, helping food cook faster. The bags and containers are then dumped haphazardly into canals, turning them into rivers of debris several feet deep.
Environmental groups have been pushing plastic bag bans both internationally and in the United States for some time. The African nation of Rwanda became the first country to ban all plastics in 2008. Mexico City, Bangladesh, and most recently, Toronto are among the largest international cities that have imposed bans.
Argentina also is calling for all supermarkets to eliminate non-biodegradable plastic bags by October 2014.
In the United States, bans have been approved in cities and counties from Maine to Washington. Nearly 50 cities and counties in California alone embrace a celebrity-endorsed ban. In Los Angeles, the largest American city in the country to approve the ban, bags will be phased out at thousands of stores over the next year or so.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a 2009 attempt by the states Department of Environmental Protection to phase out bags after five years fell flat after lawmakers didn't buy into the proposal.
Bill Hickman, who coordinates the anti-bag campaign for The Surfrider Foundation, one of the more active organizations on the issue, said he wasnt aware of any targeted effort in Haiti. He calls the proposal great news.
Mostly cities and urban counties have adopted the ban, which targets the thin, lightweight plastic bags commonly used at grocery stores and convenience store checkouts. But some of the worst pollution from the bags occurs in poorer undeveloped nations, said Hickman.
We see a lot of issues in the Third World, he said. Some of the most shocking photos come from places like Indonesia and Central America. These items are very cheap and easy to litter, and there is very little infrastructure to recycle them.
For environmentalists, the biggest problem is that many of the billions of bags used annually commonly end up in the ocean where they and other plastic debris kill countless sea birds, sea turtles and other marine life. The thin bags, which blow away with the slightest winds, also pose problems at landfills and in most cases arent cost-effective for recycling.
Its really kind of the tip of the plastic pollution iceberg, Hickman said. Plastic does not biodegrade. It may [break down in sunlight] over time into smaller pieces, but it persists well past our lifetimes in the environment.