20 | MAY | 2019
Plastic straws: 49 thousand tons of garbage a year
Drinking straws protrude from a glass in a illustration picture in Loughborough, Britain April 19, 2018 - Photo: Darren Staples/REUTERS

Plastic straws: 49 thousand tons of garbage a year

Mexico City
Astrid Rivera
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In Mexico, 49,700 tons of plastic straws are produced, causing the death of millions of marine animals and birds

It can take one hundred years for a single plastic straw to degrade, its use is limited to just a few minutes of drinking; it takes up to 150 years for a plastic bag to degrade, and it’s only used to wrap and transport products. Considering the ephemeral use of these materials, specialists have asked to regulate their consumption and increase recycling with the purpose of avoiding pollution.

Images of plastic masses floating on oceans and videos of sea animals trapped in bags or with plastic straws stuck in their bodies have circled the globe.

In Mexico, around 43 million tons of solid waste are generated, most of which come from domestic products, such as food scraps, containers, packages, and wrapping materials; each day, 117 tons of garbage are produced, which is equivalent to one person generating over two pounds of garbage every day, according to data published by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).

Jorge Carlos Hurtado Valdez, Assistant Secretary-General of Development and Environmental Regulation at SEMARNAT, stated that, out of the 117 million tons of garbage produced daily, 12% of them consists of plastic residues. He explained that out of this 12%, equivalent to 43 million tons, only 9.76% is recycled.

As for the plastic straw consumption, he calculated that the average Mexican uses two of them each week. Every year, 49,700 tons of plastic straws are produced.

“This is equivalent to the overall garbage generated by 45 families with only three members. We’re trying to convince establishments not to hand out plastic straws to customers right away, and to raise awareness among people so that they don’t request this product anymore,” he claimed.

On the occasion of the World Environment Day on June 5, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) started a campaign on social networks to change plastic products for reusable ones in order to fight pollution.

With the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution, the United Nations has invited users of social networks to make a commitment to stop using plastic products and invite three friends to join the initiative.

On May 21, SEMARNAT started the campaign Sin popote está bien” (No straw, please), which seeks to raise awareness on the impact of plastic straws on the environment. The campaign points to the ephemeral use of straws in contrast with the time it takes for them to degrade: 100 years or more.

Dolores Barrientos Alemán, representative of Mexico in the UNEP, expressed that a regulation of plastic consumption is needed worldwide, as well as public policies which can raise awareness on the damage these materials cause in ecosystems. She called on the Mexican government, private companies, and citizens to reconsider the use of these products and look for sustainable alternatives, such as the use of reusable bags instead of plastic ones.

Data from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicate that, in the last 50 years, the overall production of plastic products has increased 20 times and 320 million tons of this material have been produced since. 8 million of them end up in oceans, either floating away or stranded on beaches.

The consumption of this product has caused the death of one million birds and around 100 thousand sea mammals from 600 different species, apart from sea turtles all over the world.

To Emilia Marín, coordinator to Marine Protected Areas from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it is necessary to establish a legal framework that forces companies to reduce their consumption of plastic for product packaging. Perhaps not a full prohibition, but only a mandatory reduction of use applied progressively, with the application of taxes or even fines.

She commented that the regulation of plastic materials is urgent, given that its overuse began 50 years ago. “It’s alarming because these plastics usually end up in rivers, forests, and oceans. We must focus on two things: reducing consumption and increasing recycling in order to make use of the wasted material,” she warned.


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