In eco-friendly move, Mexico City bans single-use plastic bags

Mexico City’s new ban on plastic bags has inspired visions of a journey back in time when people relied on paper bags and baskets to carry things

In eco-friendly move, Mexico City bans single-use plastic bags
The ban took effect in January 1 - Photo: Germán Espinosa/EL UNIVERSAL
English 08/01/2020 16:55 Newsroom & Agencies Mexico City Daina Beth Solomon, Sharay Angulo, Josué González, Dave Graham & Daniel Wallis/REUTERS & Salvador Corona/EL UNIVERSAL Actualizada 17:42
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Mexico City’s new ban on plastic bags has inspired visions of a journey back in time even as local makers of the packaging worry they could become obsolete.

Last week, the city’s government banned single-use plastic bags to complement worldwide efforts to protect the environment, sparking protests from companies that produce them.

“We have to take plastic out of circulation,” said Andree Lilian Guigue, the official overseeing the ban in Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest metropolises. “Plastic and other waste products that damage the planet end up in the ravines, woods, and public spaces of the city – and nobody cleans it up.”

The ban that began on January 1 prohibits the sale or distribution of the bags pervasive everywhere from Walmart to corner shops.

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Plastics industry association ANIPAC says the roughly 20 million people who live in Mexico City and its sprawl use about 68,000 tons of bags a year. Fines for plastic offenders could range from MXN $42,000 to $170,000.

Gabriel Sánchez, who hawks produce at a marketplace, said the ban was a return to 1960s packaging.

“Now we’re going back to paper bags, sacks, baskets,” he said. “I think it will take a while but people will get used to it.”

Firms including Walmart’s Mexico unit, breadmaker Bimbo, and conglomerate Femsa agreed to offer free reusable bags this month and explore more ways to reduce plastic packaging.

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Plastic producers say the plan will hurt an industry already struggling to adjust to a patchwork of reforms across Mexico and are lobbying lawmakers to enact a federal law that would standardize rules and allow reusable, thicker bags.

“The solution should be regulating bags, not prohibiting them,” said Aldimir Torres, president of ANIPAC, which registers 141 plastic bag producers in Mexico City.

Nationwide the industry generates about USD $30 billion a year, but it shrunk in 2019, partially due to plastic bans in various cities.

Mexico City thinks the solution could be compostable bags, which easily break down.

But José del Cueto, spokesman of Inboplast, an association of companies that make more environmentally-friendly bags, says that would require costly imported materials.

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He wants the city to take after California, which banned single-use bags in 2014 but allows multiple-use plastic bags.

Guigue Pérez said that “the most important for us is to have a better city and planet; we’ll do everything that is in our hands. We are betting on everything and we are very happy because we believe we are going to give an example to the world.”

She added that Mexico City generates approximately 13,000 tonnes of garbage per day, of which 8,600 tonnes are sent to landfills and only 1,900 tonnes are recycled.

She explained that the main objective is to achieve responsible consumption so that Mexico City’s inhabitants become increasingly aware and stop using plastic so as not to pollute the city and the planet.

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She added that Sedema has worked with the plastic industry in the city since January 2018 to identify which would be the steps for the transition, “and one thing we want to be clear with is that biodegradable bags are not going to be allowed either,” she asserted.

Now, only compostable bags will be allowed, “It’s important for people to know that there will be bags for sanitary matters since there are foods with which there is direct contact, as is the case of processed meats.”

Those who do not comply with the new law will be punished with sanctions that go from MXN $42,000 to $170,000 and although she asserted that it is not a punitive initiative, she said that it is necessary for establishments to become environmentally aware.

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