Mexico City plastic ban poses challenge for virus-hit firms

Mexico’s ban on single-use plasticin its capital, one of the world’s most populous metropolises, has delighted environmentalists but dismayed some businesses struggling to cope with thecoronavirus pandemic, reports AFP.

Home to around nine million people, Mexico City generates about 13,000tons of solid waste every day.

The new rules, which are being phased in, ban the use of disposableplastic items such as cutlery, plates, cups, straws and food trays, inaddition to a year-old ban on plastic bags. The move poses yet another challenge for Celina Aguilar, whose restauranthas had to close twice due to the pandemic and like others now relies on takeout or home delivery.

“We still haven’t recovered from the losses (of the first closure). Noweveryone must change to biodegradable packaging or they fine you,” Aguilar complained.

Since December 18, Mexico City has banned non-essential activitiesincluding dining in restaurants in an attempt to curb the soaring number of coronavirus infections. The plastics ban “affects us a lot because right now we’re doing takeawayonly, and how can we give it to the customers” said food vendor Martin Matias. “It’s a daily battle in this situation.” Environmental group Greenpeace Mexico argues that businesses in the cityhave had plenty of time to prepare for the change. “It’s been under discussion for 15 years, and in all this time thecompanies have done nothing to find a solution,” said OrnelaGarelli, anactivist with the group.

Images of discarded plastic items littering the countryside and cloggingthe world’s rivers and oceans have raised global awareness about the problem.

Greenpeace argues that biodegradable or compostable products are not theanswer and companies should seek to avoid creating waste altogether.

“We see the use of any type of disposable material as a false solutionbecause it replaces plastic pollution with other problems,” Garelli said. “Most of these compostable or biodegradable items need to reach industrialcomposting plants, and many of these don’t exist in Mexican cities,” she added. Mexico City authorities warn that people breaking the new law risk a fineof up to 150,000 pesos (around $7,500) and the closure of their premises. 

The ban “not only promotes a change in the type of disposables or bags butalso seeks to raise awareness of the amount of domestic waste we generate,”said Andree LilianGuigue, a senior official in the city’s environmentdepartment.

She acknowledged that the change poses a challenge for businesses.

“The ban is difficult not only because of the dependence on plastic wehave created, but also because of the pandemic,” Guigue added.

But her department said that it had informed more than 1,400 foodestablishments about the new law in the six months before it took effect.

“Many of them not only continued to use disposables, but also increasedtheir use,” Guigue said.

The law authorizes the use of packaging made of compostable materials likecorn starch and avocado seeds.

“But the world’s compostable capacity is not even enough to cover theneeds of Mexico,” a country of nearly 129 million people, said AldimirTorres, president of Mexico’s national plastic industry association.

Torres warned that the ban would be devastating for the industry and couldresult in the loss of between 20,000 and 50,000 jobs.

Despite the many challenges he faces, Edgar Lopez said he supports thechange and tries to persuade customers coming to his small food stall to bring their own containers.

“I know it’s a very difficult step for everyone, but we need to startright now, in the middle of a health and economic crisis,” he said.