Hundreds of millions of people visit U.S. national parks every single year. They take photos, they hike, they soak in the sights… and they leave behind single-use plastic items.
All around the majestic expanses of protected wilderness, there are plastic bottles lying in grass, wrappers floating in rivers, and disposable bags tangled in tree branches. To combat this, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced this week that it is going to phase out the sale and distribution of single-use plastic items on public lands and national parks… but not until 2032.
“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 Deb Haaland in a press release. “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.”
This initiative is part of the administration’s plan for the country’s federal agencies to decrease waste and boost the use of reusable and recycled products. The goal is to decrease the immense amount of trash that is managed from federal lands every year. According to the National Parks Service, more than 70 million tons of waste is managed every year. Some of it is food and discarded gear, but a lot of it is plastic.
The Interior Department’s own operations produced more than 80,000 tons of waste in 2020 alone. “The Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” a 2020 memo read.
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This change is a good thing: It’ll mean less plastic going into landfills and polluting public lands and national parks, but why wait until 2032? Our environment should be protected from trash that isn’t going to biodegrade (and from oil and gas drilling). But U.S. leadership could change in a few years, and a new administration may not carry on with this plan to reduce plastic waste. The time for big actions is now—actually, it was years ago, but here we are.