Single-use plastics are polluting our landfills and waterways, killing marine life and ultimately contributing to the climate crisis. Here’s how 10 countries have made big changes to tackle the problem, and how you can tackle it too.

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These 10 Countries Will Inspire You To Stop Your Single-Use Plastic Habit

These 10 Countries Will Inspire You To Stop Your Single-Use Plastic Habit

Single-use plastics are polluting our landfills and waterways, killing marine life and ultimately contributing to the climate crisis. Here’s how 10 countries have made big changes to tackle the problem, and how you can tackle it too.

Life is an adventure worth caring about. Great Big Guides give you the recommendations you need to live a more joyful, interesting and meaningful life. If you purchase any of the products we recommend in a Guide, Great Big Story may receive revenue. Please note that the prices in this guide were accurate at the time of publishing but are subject to change at any time.

Plastic pollution has officially become a worldwide health crisis. Almost 80 percent of the Earth’s plastic is currently littering our landfills and environment, and almost 13 tons end up in our oceans, according to Greenpeace. Some countries, like Peru and Australia, have severely restricted single-use plastics. Others, like France and Kenya, are banning them outright. As the U.S.A. waits for a federal-level policy on single-use plastics, here are some things you can do right now to start reducing your own plastic footprint at home.

Zimbabwe, Where the Food Industry Was Forced To Phase Out Plastic

zimbabwe plastic ban
Zimbabwe. Photo: Getty DEA/ F. Galardi De Agostini

In 2017, officials in Zimbabwe decided to ban takeout containers made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), a non-recyclable styrofoam-like plastic that can literally take a million years to break down. The containers caused a sewer-clogging epidemic, and many of them were burned with the trash, making the air toxic to breathe. The ban was controversial among food vendors, but the threat of fines up to $5,000 got them to comply. The following year, Zimbabwe introduced legislation to outlaw all single-use plastics.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

You can have your cake and take it home, too. Just sneak these reusable food containers in your bag when you go to restaurants to sustainably transport your to-go meals. This set of two is made of 50 percent recycled BPA-free plastic that’s both microwave- and dishwasher-safe. They even come with separate, leak-proof compartments, which is more than we can say for most single-use substitutes.

$27 for 2

reusable takeout containers

France, Where Single-Use Plastics Are Practically Non-Existent

france plastic ban
Paris, France. Photo: Getty Corbis News Frédéric Soltan

France is quickly becoming a front-runner in the race to tackle climate change. The country took its first step toward a plastic-free future in 2015 by giving plastic bags the boot. The following year, it became the first nation to outlaw plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. By 2020, French folks will say au revoir to plastic straws, coffee stirrers, and cotton swabs, too. France’s progress has even inspired the entire EU to propose legislation that would ban single-use plastics across the union by 2021, and make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Do like the French do, and erase your plastic footprint in one fell swoop with the Zero Waste Starter Kit by EcoBox. It comes with four stainless steel straws, a biodegradable travel cup for hot and cold drinks, a bamboo toothbrush, an organic cotton grocery bag, a reusable lunch box, and beeswax wrap for food storage. Très chic.

$44

plastic elimination kit

Australia, Where Plastic Bags Are Being Banned by the Billion

melbourne australia plastic ban
The Seafarers Bridge in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Getty Universal Images Group Education Images

Two major Australian supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, led the charge in July 2018 to toss single-use plastic bags—and just three months later, the country reported an 80 percent reduction. The grand total of plastic bags kept out of landfills and waterways rang in at a staggering one and a half billion. Critics have panned the ban, saying it complicates the lives of Australian citizens, but that’s not stopping smaller supermarkets from starting to follow suit down under.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Critics say Australia’s plastic bag ban really stinks, and some have a valid point: What will pet owners use to pick up after their animals? Doggy Do Good has your back with biodegradable poop bags that Amazon shoppers give five stars. They’re thick enough to handle your dog’s business without leaks or odors, and because they’re vegetable-based, they break down in just 90 days.

$10

plastic free poop bags

Canada, Where They’re Making Up for Lost Time

canada plastic ban
Bow Valley, Canada. Photo: Getty Archive Photos

Canada has its sights set on keeping plastic out of the oceans—and away from the fish, whales, turtles, and other marine animals that live there. The country has been inspired by the EU’s initiative, and plans to enstate a single-use plastic ban by 2021. With less than 10 percent of Canada’s plastics currently being recycled, the nation is woefully behind on climate action, but they’re determined to catch up with this new legislation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Food packaging and containers are some of the biggest threats to marine life, but you can start making a difference in your own kitchen by trading plastic sandwich bags for paper Lunchskins that perform just as well but break down much more easily. These are made from sustainably harvested—and surprisingly grease-resistant—wood pulp and have an adhesive seal for freshness.

$7

biodegradable resealable paper storage bags

Tunisia, Where Straw Baskets Are the New Plastic Bags

Dromedary in La Marsa. Photo: Getty Universal Images Group Godong

The tiny nation of Tunisia is gearing up for a monumental 2020. On December 31, 2019, non-biodegradable plastic bags will be officially outlawed across the board—that means no producing, importing, selling or distributing whatsoever. The bold move follows a 2017 supermarket-only ban that saw a 94 percent reduction in plastic bags in the first year. Citizens didn’t have to look very far for an alternative, though. Tunisia’s traditional straw Koffa baskets were the obvious choice—and, frankly, the most stylish.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

While, you'll have to go to Tunisia to get your own authentic Tunisian shopping baskets, you can bring similar street style to market with this set of two jute baskets, (made in China) which are strong enough to support heavy groceries but lightweight enough not to add to the burden. Unlike some straw baskets, these boast a pair of handles you can get a good grip on—but they’re also versatile enough to hold things like umbrellas, magazines, or firewood in place of a giant plastic bin.

$37

Plastic ban in Tunisia

Peru, Where Bottles Are Banned On the Beach

peru plastic ban
Photo: Instagram @jonaikernt

Earlier this year, Peru put the kibosh on single-use plastics—especially in vulnerable environments, like the beach. In parts of the country where you can still sip on bottles of Evian, the plastic must contain at least 15 percent recycled materials. Peru also announced a three-year plan in 2018; which means that single-use plastic products like bags, bottles, and straws will become a thing of the past.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Hydrate responsibly with the refillable water bottle that everyone’s raving about: the Hydroflask. This insulated stainless steel beauty travels with ease, won’t leak, and keeps your beverages cold for almost a full day. Its mouth is wide enough to fit ice cubes for those extra steamy days — but narrow enough for spill-free sipping. Plus, it fits perfectly into your car’s cup holder or your bike’s bottle rack. Did we mention it comes in 17 super-fun colors?

$30

how to stop using plastic

Rwanda, Where Plastic Bags are Contraband

rwanda plastic ban
Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Getty Corbis Historical Christophe Calais

Imagine if plastic bags were so controversial, you risked public shaming just for carrying them. That’s precisely the case in Rwanda, where you can be fined, jailed, or forced into a public confession for attempting to smuggle in one of these plastic pariahs. Authorities drew a hard line in 2008 as part of its stellar effort to rebound from one of the worst genocides in history. The law ended up helping to boost the economy and earn Rwanda the title of Africa’s cleanest nation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Go grocery shopping with a stylish reusable FEED bag, and you’ll help serve 50 meals to children living in impoverished countries like Rwanda. This market tote is made of 100 percent cotton canvas with sturdy leather handles and two outside pockets for stashing your keys and cell phone while you cruise the farmer’s market. FEED was launched in 2007 and has provided 100 million meals to date.

$78

plastic ban shopping bag

The U.K., Where a 25-Year Plan Is In Place

England plastic ban
Aerial view of the skyline of London, England. Photo: Getty LightRocket Pawel Libera

The U.K. has a master plan for the next quarter century: to “set the global standard” on plastic elimination by 2043. Their strategy seems to be small goals. Some of the steps the U.K. has taken to date include banning microbeads in soaps and toiletries, getting rid of plastic straws with the “Final Straw” law, and funding school programs to teach kids environmental awareness. According to former Prime Minister Theresa May, the amount of single-use plastic consumed in the U.K. each year “would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Sephora’s top-rated natural exfoliating scrub for men uses apricot seeds instead of plastic microbeads to gently and naturally buff away dead skin cells while giving your face a healthy glow to match a healthy planet. It’s formulated for men but women swear by it, too.

$25

plastic free face wash

Kenya, Where a Plastic Bag Costs $38,000 (and a Jail Sentence)

kenya plastic ban
Nairobi National Park. Photo: Getty Images News Peter Macdiarmid

In 2017, Kenya became one of the first countries to outlaw single-use plastics—items you use once before tossing. It’s also arguably the strictest: if you’re caught carrying a plastic bag here, you could face a fine up to $38,000—or as many as four years in prison. But has it worked? According to Global Citizen, Kenya’s drastic plastic ban has been so effective, other African nations like Uganda and Tanzania are considering similar legislation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Take your cue from Kenya, and just say no to plastic grocery store bags. That includes the ones that hold your fruits and veggies. Instead, stash these breathable, machine-washable mesh drawstring bags in your reusable tote — and strut down the produce aisle guilt-free.

$10 FOR 5

plastic free produce bags

Taiwan, Where a Blanket Ban Will Banish Plastic by 2030

Taiwan plastic ban
Taipei city skyline, Taiwan. Photo: Getty Universal Images Group Prisma By Dukas

Taiwan started to outlaw single-use plastics in 2002, but by 2018, the country announced it was doubling down on the decision by imposing a blanket ban on the whole ball of yarn: plastic bags, straws, utensils, and cups will be phased out by 2030. Taiwanese shops will start charging customers for these plastics in 2025 to help ease them into the zero-plastic goal five years down the road. If the stunt is a success, it’ll be the most comprehensive campaign of its kind in the world.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Taiwan’s blanket ban got us thinking about other ways we can eliminate single-use plastics from our lives, and not just when it comes to eating. These biodegradable cotton swabs use renewable bamboo sticks and top-quality organic cotton so you can clean up your hygiene routine, too. The company sells its products in bulk to cut down on packaging—and the packaging is recycled, of course.

$7

plastic free cotton swabs

Single-use plastics are polluting our landfills and waterways, killing marine life, blocking our sewers, and ultimately contributing to climate change. Take your climate action cue from these 10 countries that are banning plastic.

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