National parks to phase out single-use plastics by 2032 as local governments eye sustainability measures

Federal land managed by the Department of the Interior will phase out the use and sale of single-use plastics over the next decade.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

National parks and other federal lands in Colorado and across the country will phase out single-use plastics by 2032, according to a new secretarial order from the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

Order 3407, which was signed on June 8 by Sec. Deb Haaland, aims to reduce the procurement, sale and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging with a goal of phasing out single-use plastic products on department-managed lands over the next decade. The order will work toward the goal of continuing to protect public lands and the communities around them, Haaland said in a statement. In addition to the National Park Service, this ordinance covers the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation.

The order directs the department to identify non-hazardous alternatives to single-use plastic products, such as compostable or biodegradable materials, or 100% recycled materials. Single-use plastic products include plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers, bottles, straws, cups, cutlery and disposable plastic bags that are designed to be used once and discarded.

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

The order is part of the implementation of President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14057, which calls for federal agencies to minimize waste and support markets for recycled products. On Dec. 8, 2021, Biden issued the order, which also includes a focus on “sustainable acquisition and procurement.” Within 90 days of the Department of the Interior’s order, the department’s chief sustainability officer will issue guidance to offices on creating a plan that will account for single-use plastics and develop solutions to work toward the goal of phasing them out. Over the next nine months, bureaus and offices across the Department of Interior will submit draft sustainability plans to address single-use plastic, including timelines and annual reporting on progress toward reducing procurement, sales, and distribution. Within a year of issuance, draft plans will be reviewed and offices will submit final plans. 

This comes at a time where local leaders are looking at reducing waste, as well. Last month, the state of Colorado passed a producer-responsible model for recycling that will aim to make recycling for Coloradans more accessible and more uniform. Under a producer responsibility policy, producers form an independent nonprofit to manage the collection and distribution of funds to increase and improve recycling, and companies’ membership dues are based on the amount and type of packaging they sell in Colorado. The implementation of the producer-responsible model is aimed to be in place by 2026 to make time for needs assessments to be done across the state. 

Proponents of the bill, such as High Country Conservation Center community programs director Rachel Zerowin, say that this will make recycling in the state easier to navigate and more uniform. 

In Summit County, various municipalities have had discussions about how to address waste in the county even further. Currently, the local landfill is on track to close in 2056, based on current projections, but could close sooner if there is no waste mitigation before then. According to High Country Conservation Center, Summit County’s recycling rate is 20%, which means that 80% of the waste produced in the county is sent to the landfill. In Breckenridge, the community diversion goal for waste is 40% by 2035, and on Tuesday, Breckenridge Town Council will discuss Pay-As-You-Throw and Universal Recycling ordinances. 

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