QUITO – Some 4.5 million plastic shopping bags have been used since 2011 in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, but officials plan to ban the use of the bags starting in August in an effort to protect the environment of the “enchanted islands” of the Pacific.
Efforts to end the use of plastic shopping bags began in 2011 with a study by the Environment Ministry, Viviana De la Rosa, director of environmental education and social outreach at Galapagos National Park, said in an interview with Efe.
Three years later, an ordinance was approved regulating the sale and distribution in the Galapagos of some plastic products, mainly bags with handles, cups and other items made of extruded polystyrene foam, as a first step toward the elimination of those materials in the islands.
Starting on Aug. 10, there will be a ban on the use of plastic products that pose serious problems in the trash generated in the islands, since they take around 400 years to decompose, De la Rosa said.
The campaign to curtail the use of plastic bags with handles is being accompanied with public information on alternatives, such as bags made from cloth and recycled materials, some of which are made by the islands’ inhabitants.
Residents have already received roughly 2,000 of the 6,000 cloth bags, which are tough and easy to wash, and are part of efforts to encourage people to use alternative products, De la Rosa said.
Managers and employees of major local companies have been trained to promote the use of products other than plastic bags on the archipelago, located about 1,000 kilometers (some 600 miles) west of the coast of continental Ecuador and declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1978.
About 27,000 people live on the islands, a natural laboratory that provided British naturalist Charles Darwin with the basic knowledge for developing his theory of evolution.
Banning the introduction of plastic shopping bags and other polyethylene items will not stop their use immediately, but by 2017 there will be no more such products in use on the islands, the first place in Ecuador to implement the ban, De la Rosa said.
In addition to the year-round residents of the Galapagos, more than 200,000 tourists visit the islands each year, making it necessary to have constant outreach campaigns to reinforce messages about the eradication of polyethylene products, the national park official said.
Some 95 percent of the territory’s 8,000 sq. kilometers (a little over 3,000 sq. miles) constitutes a protected area that is home to more than 50 species of animals and birds found nowhere else on the planet.