Mexico’s capital, one of the largest cities in Latin America with over nine million people, has just introduced a ban on single-use plastics after a year-long preparation. The city follows many others around the world that are trying to address plastic pollution, one of the biggest and most challenging environmental problems the world is facing at this point.
The sale of plastic forks, knives, straws, single-use containers, cotton buds, and coffee capsules, among other single-use plastic products, is now officially banned in Mexico City. Lawmakers approved the ban in 2019 and since then the city has been working to adjust to the legislation. Plastic bags had already been banned, and now the full ban entered into force.
“Disposable plastics take many years to degrade. By saying goodbye to disposables we are giving our planet a breather and creating a sustainable city,” Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (SEDEMA) wrote on Twitter, encouraging citizens to follow the new rule. Mexicans use about six million tons of plastic per year, SEDEMA added.
— Secretaría del Medio Ambiente (@SEDEMA_CDMX) January 3, 2021
The government won’t apply sanctions during the first few months and, on the contrary, it will seek to inform citizens regarding the new regulation to encourage compliance. Over 1,400 restaurants and food stands have already been visited in 2019 by SEDEMA officials to raise awareness over the problems created by single-use plastics.
Worldwide, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, half of which is used to design single-use items such as cups and straws. Around eight million tons are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain. According to a 2019 study, this passes up the food change up to humans, and the average person ingests up to 5 grams of plastic a week.
Speaking to EFE news agency, Greenpeace campaigner Ornela Garelli described the ban as “a good measure, even in times of the pandemic.” Still, to be effective, the measure will need the support of Mexican citizens, who will have to change their consumption habits and aim at more sustainable lifestyles, Garelli added. Introducing legislation is only the first step — compliance is sometimes a very different problem.
At least 20 of the 32 states that are part of Mexico have already agreed to limit the use of single-use plastics. Due to its size, Mexico City could now make a big difference by joining that list. Nevertheless, the move will likely be challenging, as vendors and market stalls currently use plastic all over the city for tamales and tacos, among other food products.
Representatives from the plastic industry have largely questioned the new rule, claiming that at least 50 companies could go bankrupt very soon leaving over 30,000 people without jobs. They said to be looking for new materials to replace plastic but described this as difficult because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Aldimir Torres, head of the Plastic Industries Association, told Televisa that companies can’t travel to Europe, Asia, or the US to find new alternatives because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Monica Conde, head of Ambiente Plastico, a local news site focused on plastics, said prices could go up in restaurants because of the new rule.
As Mexico along with other cities and countries around the world are gradually waking up to the scale of the plastic pollution problem, introducing bans on certain products will likely become the norm in many parts of the world. This has become highly necessary as only a small part of the plastic products manufactured are actually recycled. Instead, they are incinerated or thrown in landfills, where they are often mismanaged and end up in rivers and oceans.
Eight states across the US— California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont— have already banned single-use plastic bags. Nevertheless, seventeen other states have also said it’s illegal to ban plastic items, placing a ban on a ban, likely aided by the plastic industry.
The European Union has a goal to ensure all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. A ban on some disposable plastics such as cutlery, glasses, and plates will be implemented this year. That’s also the case in Canada, with a ban set to kick in 2021. The country uses 15 billion plastic bags per year and 57 million plastic straws per day.