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13 Brilliant Ways Other Countries Are Replacing Plastic

Our world is drowning in plastic. Fortunately, efforts are expanding across the planet to tackle the single-use plastics crisis.

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Plastic waste collection on green background. Concept of Recycling plastic and ecology. Flat lay, top viewIgisheva Maria/Shutterstock

The truth about single-use plastic

A staggering 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually around the globe—and each bag takes 1,000 years to decompose. Over 10 million tons of plastic enter the ocean annually. Our harmful plastic habits must change or there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic litter on Earth by 2050. The good news: Governments in at least 32 countries have banned plastic bags altogether and at least 127 countries have implemented policies regulating plastic bags according to the United Nations. Many countries around the globe are implementing plastic bans and encouraging consumers to replace plastic with alternative materials including biodegradable single-use items and eco-friendly reusable products. These powerful photos show that the Earth still needs our help.

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Say No to Plastic Bags, Recycle and Pollution Problem ConceptJulie208/Shutterstock

Luxemburg loves the eco-sac

Since 2004, the government of Luxemburg, along with Valorlux, a waste management non-profit, have replaced the country’s single-use plastic bag with the Öko-Tut, an eco-sac reusable bag. Eighty-five retailers implemented the use of the Öko-Tut bags resulting in an 85 percent drop in plastic consumption in the first nine years of the initiative. This has cut down on the use of 1.1 billion single-use plastic bags. Check out these 15 brilliant products made from recycled ocean plastics.

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White single-use plastic bags and other plastic items on a yellow background. The concept of choice without plastic or environmental problems.Hazal Ak/Shutterstock

Guatemala goes back to ancestral methods

A Mayan village in Guatemala is on the front lines of the movement against single-use plastics in the country. San Pedro La Laguna established a zero-tolerance policy against plastic bags, straws, and containers in 2016— the first municipal law against single-use plastics in Guatemala. The government collected all plastics from community members and gave them complimentary reusable or biodegradable alternatives as well as handmade rubber basket bags. Villagers have returned to ancestral methods using hoja del maxán (large leaves) to package meat and cloth napkins to carry tortillas. San Pedro La Laguna has influenced other municipalities in Guatemala to implement single-use plastic bans, including Antigua.

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White single use plastic in garbage bin on blue background. Concept of Recycling plastic. Flat lay, top view

Costa Rica is building a zero-waste future

Costa Rica has become the first country in the world to eliminate plastic bags, bottles, cutlery, straws, and coffee stirrers as of 2021. The objective is to replace 80 percent of the country’s disposable plastic packaging with non-petroleum renewable materials which can biodegrade within six months, even in a marine environment. Renewable choices include cassava bags, sugar cane takeaway boxes, and wooden coffee stirrers. In 2017, Health Minister María Esther Anchía said that Costa Ricans discard 1.5 million plastic bottles every day. The country was awarded the 2019 Champions of the Earth honor—the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade. Here are 50 statistics you should know for Earth Day.

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Colorful plastic rubbish and garbage pile, conceptual image for environmental pollution and consumerismigorstevanovic/Shutterstock

Mexico’s grassroots fight against plastic

Throughout Mexico, grassroots movements are occurring to replace plastics at local levels. The Government of Baja California Surpassed passed a restrictive law to reduce single-use plastic. Alternatives in the region include straws made of agave fibers or avocado pits; cutlery made of cornstarch; Kraft paper bags; Greenware cups and containers made from plants; and hot beverage cups made of bamboo fibers and waxed with PLA—all of which are certified to be 100 percent compostable. Cero Basura Yucatán is leading the way towards plastic replacements with frequent workshops, zero-waste markets, and plastic elimination tips.

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Hand holding green sprout made from plastic disposable packages on blue background. Save the world, creative, environment pollution or World Earth Day concept. Top viewTetiana Shumbasova/Shutterstock

Dominica loves nature too much to use plastic

The Nature Island of the Caribbean has banned non-biodegradable plastics. CREAD (Climate Resilient Execution Agency for Dominica) is helping islanders phase out their plastic consumption by introducing plant-based reusables that can be completely or partially converted into water, energy, and biomass. The plastic replacements in Dominica include bottles, food containers, plates, display trays, cups, lids, cutlery, and straws made from biodegradable materials including paper and cornstarch.

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Black plastic bag with variety elements of plastic in it, against a blue background. Representation of plastic pollutionolesea vetrila/Shutterstock

No more single-use plastic will come to Jamaica

Jamaica banned the importation of single-use plastic bags and straws in 2019. According to the Jamaica Tourist Board, the government is currently working with local bag companies to manufacture environmentally-friendly replacements. In the meantime, people have switched to reusable shopping bags, biodegradable paper straws, and cardboard boxes. The next wave of plastic bans will remove plastic straws from juice boxes and drink pouches.

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Clear disposable plastic bag on color background.New Africa/Shutterstock

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda banned plastic shopping bags in 2016. To ease the financial burden on citizens as they replace plastics, the government in Antigua and Barbuda declared alternatives to be tax-free, including products made from sugar cane, bamboo, paper, and potato starch. Complimentary reusable shopping bags made by local seamstresses and tailors were distributed at major supermarkets in addition to paper bags made from recycled material. The plastic replacements led to a 15.1 percent decrease in plastic in landfills during the first year of the initiative.

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Three crashed plastic bottles on blue background form resycling sign. Plastic utilisation concept. Attractive ecological problem positive poster. Mykolastock/Shutterstock

India loves to repurpose and reuse

Plastic is an ongoing issue in India despite many plastic bans. The latest initiative in the world’s second-largest country is phasing out plastic and replacing it with jute, a raw material that can be used as an eco-plastic alternative. The Indian government plans to replace all single-use plastic with jute, and in the meantime, many vendors have implemented eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. In the state of Kerala, it’s an age-old tradition to serve Thali meals on banana leaves instead of plastic plates and use your hands for eating instead of plastic cutlery. Throughout Rajasthan, it’s common to see colorful saris upcycled into shopping bags at markets and shops. Here are 36 reusable versions of things you use every day.

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White single-use plastic and plastic drink straws on a blue background. Say no to single use plastic. Environmental, pollution concept.sherlesi/Shutterstock

Bali is an emerging waste-fighter in Indonesia

A youth-led initiative was launched in Bali to reduce plastic bags, influencing the Balinese government to begin phasing out plastic bags and straws in 2018. The Indonesian national government is following suit and hopes to reduce plastic marine waste by 70 percent by 2025. Local company Avani Eco creates ‘I Am Not Plastic’ bags which have gained popularity in Indonesia. The biodegradable plastic bags are made from cassava and claim to be water-soluble, non-toxic, and compostable. Here are 22 other companies getting rid of plastic for good.

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Plastic waste bottles top view. Eco plastic recycling concept.nevodka/Shutterstock

Grocery stores in Thailand are repurposing leaves

Thai grocery store Rimping went viral when pictures surfaced of plastic packaging being replaced by thick banana leaves. Produce was wrapped in the leaves and secured with bamboo. This sort of packaging is inherent in Thailand where many street vendors wrap sticky rice dishes in banana leaves to cook and serve to patrons. Plastic is still widely used in the country, but hopefully, other retailers will be inspired to follow the footsteps of Rimping and turn to leaves instead of plastic for packaging.

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Clear disposable plastic bag on color backgroundNew Africa/Shutterstock

Rwanda is a pioneer in replacing plastic bags

Africa has the largest number of countries with plastic bag bans; currently, there are 34 national bans or laws for the purpose of implementing a ban. Rwanda was a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags. A zero-tolerance policy was introduced over a decade ago and now the African country is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Removing plastic bags substantially reduced litter and the harmful toxins released from burning plastics. Plastic bags were replaced with paper and cotton bags. Avoiding plastic is just one of 13 ways green living can make you healthier.

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Black, blue and white plastic bags on blue background. Representation of plastic pollution conceptolesea vetrila/Shutterstock

Morocco put a halt to black plastic bags

Morocco used to be the second-largest plastic bag consumer, following the United States. To combat this, Morocco banned black plastic bags and seized 420 tons of plastic bags in a single year. Moroccans have since abandoned their plastic shopping bags in favor of more environmentally sound fabric and paper bag replacements.

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Plastic dishes crumpled cup on a purple background close-upalexnastock/Shutterstock

People and businesses lead the way in New Zealand

In July 2019, New Zealand banned single-use plastic bags. Prior to the new legislation businesses and individuals were already pondering replacing plastic. The Facebook group Zero Waste in NZ has more than 31,000 users who share ideas about unique alternatives to plastic. In 2018, 12 companies signed a declaration committing to use 100 percent compostable, reusable, or recyclable packaging by 2025 including international brands such as L’Oréal, the Coca-Cola Company, and Nestlé.

Lola Méndez
Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist and writes regularly for Reader’s Digest Culture and Travel sections. Her work has also been published in CNN, Architectural Digest, SELF, ELLE, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Parade Magazine, among other publications and her responsible travel blog, She earned a BA in Marketing from LIM College and is a 200-hour trained yoga teacher. Méndez has appeared on NBC and spoke at the Georgetown Women in Leadership summit. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn