Chile's constitutional court has ratified a bill to ban the use of plastic bags in business, paving the way for it to become the first South American country to do so.
"We are very pleased with the court's decision, it was the last stage for the enactment of this law," said environment minister Marcela Cubillos.
The law was passed by Congress on June 1 but last week the Association of Industrial Plastics (Asipla) filed an appeal claiming the move was unconstitutional, which the constitutional court rejected.
Once the government of President Sebastian Pinera enacts the law, shops will have six months to cease using plastic bags, while other small businesses will be given a year to adapt to the new rules.
Chile's plastic problem has reached epic proportions with 3.4 billion plastic bags used every year — some 200 per person, according to the government. The country has been one of the countries leading the way in Latin America against the use of plastic bags. In 2014 the government of Michelle Bachelet banned them in Chilean Patagonia and last year extended that to coastal areas.
Last year the United Nations passed a resolution, albeit non-binding, to prevent plastics from entering the oceans. Marine litter was described by Norway's environment minister Vidar Helgesen as "the fastest-growing environmental problem" in the world.
Latin America and the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to this environmental disaster as the region enjoys one of the greatest amounts of biodiversity in the world. According to the UN, it has 16 million square kilometers of sea comprising almost a quarter of the world's fish population.
The Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda were the first country in the region to ban plastic bags in 2016. That same year Colombia prohibited the use of small bags before also placing a tax on the use of bigger ones a year later.
Ecuador has moved to restrict the use of plastic bags, straws and bottles around the World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve of the Galapagos Islands.
Panama was the first country in Central America to announce a complete ban on plastic bags in January, but it has given businesses up to two years to comply with the new directives.
The three biggest cities in Latin America have also taken action, with Mexico City banning the distribution of free bags in 2009. Sao Paulo followed suit in 2015 while Buenos Aires went a step further in January 2017, putting a stop to supermarkets either using or selling such bags.