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Climate and Environment

The Federal Government Is Planning To Phase Out Single-Use Plastics At National Parks

The rectangular sign marks the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. On the far side of the sign is the National Park Service insignia. A mountain can be seen in the background.
A sign marks an entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)
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The U.S. Interior Department, which helps oversee the country's national parks, says it is planning to phase out single-use plastics on its land and facilities by 2032.

The agency would be tasked with finding alternative materials to disposable plastics, such as cutlery, bags, cups, bottles, straws and food containers, it announced Tuesday in honor of World Ocean Day.

Suggested alternatives include paper, bioplastics, composite, reusable cloth, glass, aluminum, stainless steel, or any other compostable or recyclable materials.

"The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate," said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. "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."

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The move is part of a December 2021 executive order by President Joe Biden "to reestablish the federal government as a leader in sustainability," he said.

More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced in the U.S. each year, with 14 million of them ending up in the ocean. Plastics make up 80% of the debris found in oceans, the department said.

There, marine life can accidentally ingest them, leading to injury or death.

"Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change," the agency said.

Less than 10% of plastics are recycled, and rates of recycling have not been increasing, according to the Interior Department.

The rate of recycling has hovered at 34-to-35% from 2010 to 2017, and dropped slightly to 32.1% in 2018, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

There was a similar trend in the use of plastics from 2014 to 2018, with very little change year-to-year. In that period, Americans wasted an average of 34.8 million tons of plastic.

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