How To Hold Government Accountable for Reducing Plastic Pollution

Last week, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a #CleanSeas campaign to “turn the tide on plastic.” The campaign educated people all over the world about the 8 million tons of plastic going into our oceans every year and urged individuals to take action to reduce their plastic footprint on the earth. Make a commitment here.  

According to the UNEP, countries across the globe are already making reduction commitments: Indonesia will cut marine litter by an astounding 70 percent by 2025; Uruguay has pledged to adopt a nationwide plastic bag fee in 2017; and Costa Rica is amping up education and improving waste management to reduce plastic pollution.

While these government pledges—and the more than 700 individual commitments—are a successful start, solving the plastic pollution crisis requires collaboration between communities, businesses, and governments. When governments commit to taking actionable steps to reduce plastic pollution worldwide, communities must be ready to hold their governments to those promises.

This process is already in action all over the world. When people in Rwanda advocated for a plastic bag ban with penalties for offenders the government followed through, and the ban has been upheld in the country since 2008. In California, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) partners with local government to ensure that waste diversion and recycling happens and that environmental commitments are kept. And in 2016, a grassroots movement of community members and organizations helped California uphold the state-wide plastic bag ban. 

Here are five things we all can do to hold governments accountable:

  1. Contact your representatives. Tweet at them, call them, or write letters and emails. (Don’t know who your representatives are? Find out in the US, in Europe, and in the UN.)
  2. Ask your representatives to release strategies for combating plastic pollution. For example, find out whether your country has banned microbeads in personal care products, and if they haven’t, send a letter urging action.
  3. Ask for a timeline. Whether you ask your local government to ban plastic bags or your national government to ban microbeads, request a detailed timeline for implementation. Did you know? The U.S. and more than 70 other countries are working to promote transparency and fight corruption through the Open Government Partnership. In the U.S., you can demand access to documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
  4. Show up to community events. After making your voice heard by writing your representative, show up to public forums, committee meetings, speaking events, and other gatherings your representatives hold locally. Tell your politicians your concerns about the plastic pollution crisis and listen to their responses.
  5. Follow up. Use the information you’ve gathered to ensure your representatives keep the commitments they’ve made. Call, email, and follow up again. Thank them when measures pass that reducing plastic pollution and protect the environment. If they fail to meet your expectations, tell them. For instance, you can start by letting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo know that he failed to protect community rights by letting the plastic bag industry preempt New York City’s bag ban—a bad precedent for local vs. state/national rights all over the world.

Looking for a place to start? Learn how to start a plastic bag ban or polystyrene ban in your town.

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