New Year, New Opportunities For A Healthier Planet


Photo by Daoudi Aissa on Unsplash


It’s 2020 and, as is often the case, a time for new beginnings. Several countries around the world have enacted new environmental regulations and policies, all of which were implemented with the new year.


In France, cars with emissions higher than 184g CO2/km are now subject to a €20, 000 tax. The added revenue is expected to significantly boost the finance ministry’s revenues while potentially pushing consumers to purchase electric cars instead of larger SUVs.


Further, France, the first country to ban single-use plastic, has started by removing plastic plates, cups, and Q-tips as of January 2020. In 2021, straws and cutlery will be added to the list, followed by plastic water bottles and disposable dishes soon after.


Thailand has implemented a ban on plastic bags, a move that will fully be in place by 2021. Mexico City put a similar restriction on the books and, according to the city’s Director of Environmental Awareness, Claudia Hernandez, “people are returning to baskets, to cucuruchos.” Mexico City will also ban straws, spoons, and other single-use plastic products in 2021.


To reduce toxic sunscreen pollutants, something that has already bleached and decimated hundreds of miles of coral reefs, Palau banned oxybenzone and ten other common sunscreen ingredients as of January 2020. Oxybenzone, known to cause coral bleaching, has also been banned in Hawaii.


On the heels of the Paris Agreement - instituted to keep temperature increases across the planet below 2℃ - India has taken decisive action to combat climate change. To bring down carbon emissions, it has committed to, “achieving 175GW [of renewable energy] by 2022. India will increase its total renewable energy five-fold by 2030.


Water preservation efforts and reforestation initiatives accompany plans to eliminate waste. In anticipation of a ban on all single-use plastics set to go into effect in 2022, India has phased out plastic packaging for numerous items. The use of plastic bags for daily and retail use has been restricted alongside the importation of solid plastic waste.


Not to be outdone, China has renewed its efforts to limit carbon emissions. While China didn’t commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2019 - 65 countries and the European Union did - China will implement “nature-based solutions” to help mitigate carbon. These include using biomass energy and planting forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Just this week, China introduced a policy banning single-use plastics in all major cities by the end of 2020. The prohibition will extend countrywide by 2022. Plastic bags, straws, and utensils top the list of items that will no longer be available in China by the end of the year.


What’s Going On In The United States?


While the US continues to look toward comprehensive, federal environmental legislation, individual states continue to enact their own climate-focused regulations.


In Vermont, composting will become mandatory on July 1, 2020. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, residents can dispose of food scraps by composting them on their own property, drop them off at a waste management site, or have them picked up curbside.


New York has banned single-use plastic bags statewide starting in March 2020. The goal, to reduce the 23 billion plastic bags used each year, is supported by the state’s “Bring Your Own Bag New York” campaign.


Oregon has similarly banned single-use plastic bags used by retail stores and restaurants. There are now eight states with legislation banning the bags, with California leading the charge in 2014. Hawaii, Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, and Vermont have banned single-use plastic bags as well.


California remains at the forefront of environmental change in the United States. Ten years after the passage of the Global Warming Solution Act of 2006 (AB 32), California successfully met the goals established by the legislation, reducing its carbon emissions to sub-1990 levels. Subsequent legislation SB 32, passed in 2016, tasked California with lowering carbon emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.


In 2015 and 2018, respectively, Hawaii and California set goals for 100 percent renewable electricity. Both states hope to achieve clean their energy goals by 2045. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Colorado have all considered similar environmental actions.


As a new year begins, environmental action finds itself backed by increasing legislative action. With an eye to the future, public officials and constituents alike continue to take steps to combat climate change. New laws and policies in 2020 are one step the steady path to a cleaner, healthier planet.

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