Mexico City plastic ban poses challenge for virus-hit firms

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MEXICO CITY, Jan 13, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Mexico’s ban on single-use plastic
in its capital, one of the world’s most populous metropolises, has delighted
environmentalists but dismayed some businesses struggling to cope with the
coronavirus pandemic.

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

The new rules, which are being phased in, ban the use of disposable
plastic items such as cutlery, plates, cups, straws and food trays, in
addition to a year-old ban on plastic bags.

The move poses yet another challenge for Celina Aguilar, whose restaurant
has 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). Now
everyone must change to biodegradable packaging or they fine you,” Aguilar
complained.

Since December 18, Mexico City has banned non-essential activities
including 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 takeaway
only, 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 city
have had plenty of time to prepare for the change.

“It’s been under discussion for 15 years, and in all this time the
companies have done nothing to find a solution,” said Ornela Garelli, an
activist with the group.

– ‘False solution’ –

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

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

“We see the use of any type of disposable material as a false solution
because it replaces plastic pollution with other problems,” Garelli said.

“Most of these compostable or biodegradable items need to reach industrial
composting 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 fine
of 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 but
also seeks to raise awareness of the amount of domestic waste we generate,”
said Andree Lilian Guigue, a senior official in the city’s environment
department.

She acknowledged that the change poses a challenge for businesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite the many challenges he faces, Edgar Lopez said he supports the
change 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 start
right now, in the middle of a health and economic crisis,” he said.