Things That Matter

Environmental Advocates Are Offering Tips On How People In Mexico City Can Shop With The New Plastic Bag Ban

There are new changes coming to Mexico City as the start of a new year begins. Those changes will be coming in the way in how consumers use and carry products out of all businesses in Mexico’s massive capital city. Taking effect on Jan. 1, there will be a ban on single-use plastic bags will in Mexico City, enacting a law passed by the capital’s Congress last May. According to the AP, most businesses will offer alternatives to plastic bags in the form of reusable bags made of thick plastic fiber, usually selling them for around 75 cents.”

The ban will also prohibit companies that make plastic bags to sell them to Mexico City businesses. Those same rules apply to businesses that give out plastic bags as they will face fines ranging from 2,245 pesos to 168,980 pesos ($120 to $8,950 USD). But there is an exception to the new law, street vendors that sell perishable food items such as meat and fish, will still be able to bag products in plastic bags when giving them to customers due to hygienic reasons. 

The change is huge news in a region where plastic bags are used for more than just carrying groceries but are part of everyday use in most households. 

The move towards a more “environmentally friendly” form of storage will be a major shift from what many in the Mexico City region have been accustomed to. For decades, plastic bags have been used in Mexican households as trash bags inside garbage cans and waste paper baskets. This also includes being utilized as litter bags for picking up dog waste on city streets. 

While some are ready for the ban, that isn’t the case for many who have grown accustomed to plastic bags and see potential problems with this new alternative. Ernesto Gallardo Chávez, a Mexico City subway worker, told the AP that the new reusable bags should at least be free as he fears that many may forget to bring them when going shopping. 

“They are not giving them away, they are selling them, and that is what I don’t agree with,” Gallardo Chávez said. “Just imagine, I forget my bag and I buy a lot of stuff. How do I carry it all, if they don’t give you bags anymore?”

Many people agree with this sentiment and while some aren’t opposed to making environmentally conscious efforts, this plastic bag ban will take time to get used to. Claudia Hernández, the Mexico City’s director of environmental awareness, says that habits using plastic bags will take time but is necessary step. She says instead of using plastic bags residents can instead “take it out (to the garbage truck) directly in garbage cans.”

With any change, it will certainly take time for Mexico City residents to get accustomed to these new regulations even if that means reverting back to old ways like using baskets. 

Hernandez notes that Mexico City didn’t always rely on plastic bags and instead sees many people returning to older forms of wrapping or holding items. Some of these forms of storage include woven straw baskets, ayate bags for tortillas and two-wheeled foldable shopping baskets. 

“We have a very rich history in ways to wrap things,” Hernández told the AP. “We are finding that people are returning to baskets, to cucuruchos,” she said, referring to cone-shaped rolls of paper once used to wrap loose bulk goods like nuts, chips or seeds.

There are still some questions about how the ban will affect some lower-income residents and its long term impact.

Aldimir Torres, the leader of the country’s Plastic Industry Chamber, has some questions about the new ban and how it might have a big effect on lower-income residents that might not have enough to afford a new bag if they are to forget it when going shopping. He calls the ban “cheap populism” and says that it was enacted without specific guidelines for what constitutes a “compostable” bag that can still be used. 

 “This was a law that was copied and put together in a rush, without consulting people who really know about this issue,” Torres told the AP. The cost of forgetting a bag could be pricey for some in Mexico City where a “75-cent reusable bag costs the equivalent of an hour’s worth of the minimum wage.”

While the law was passed and enacted all within a year span, it was a move that was necessary and a long time coming. In banning plastic bags, Mexico City lawmakers followed the lead of their counterparts in municipalities including Querétaro and Tijuana and the state of Veracruz. By 2021, the new ban will also prohibit the distribution of a range of other plastic items that include straws, spoons, cups and plates and balloons.

“I think that in some way this is a responsible strategy, to introduce us to some more appropriate method of consumption,” Data analysis specialist Daniel Loredo said. “In the end, they (plastic bags) are something that pollute and hurt the environment.”

READ: Chicago’s Violent Crime Rate Has Plummeted And Mayor Lori Lightfoot Has Some Serious Thoughts On Why

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Water Pollution In This Guatemalan Town Dropped 90 Percent After The Town Banned All Plastic

Things That Matter

Water Pollution In This Guatemalan Town Dropped 90 Percent After The Town Banned All Plastic

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The residents of San Pedro La Laguna have witnessed their town’s lake go from a garbage dump to its original pristine alpine condition within just three years. Why? In 2016, the entire town and its municipal government took on a monumental task: no new plastic would enter the town. Three years later, Lake Atitlán is clean, and plastic waste in the lake has reduced by 90 percent. It took all 10,000 residents of the town to fully commit to completely eliminating their use of plastic in order to revitalize Lake Atitlán, but it was worth it.

“Quitting plastic has not been an easy task,” resident Taira told Naturaleza Gurú, “but you just have to get used to it. We wrap the food in large banana leaves, store the bread in cloth napkins and use wicker baskets or woven palm bags to take purchases home.”

The town unequivocally banned straws, plastic bags, and styrofoam from entering its borders.

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“There are three products that may not seem significant,” San Pedro’s Mayor Mauricio Mendez said last year. “But when we start to see rivers and lakes polluted with these products, we realize that they are a very important key to create change on this planet.” The town swiftly put up a banner at the entrance of the town that announced Municipal Code 111-2016: “No uso bólsas plásticas, pajillas y duroport.” San Pedro does not use plastic bags, straws and styrofoam.

Instead of plastic, the town has been using banana leaves or maxán leaves, which are traditionally used for tamales. to store their food.

Credit: DW Español / YouTube

When the town passed the ordinance, it received a lot of pushback. Rolando Paiz, Guatemala’s Plastic Commission’s President, told DW that plastic is “one of the noblest materials that humans invented,” and that San Pedro simply needed infrastructure to properly store garbage. Paiz appealed the ordinance to no avail. Three years later, the town has proved itself right.

The initiative has brought the town back to its traditional ways, bringing back childhood memories for many.

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Bakery owner Graciela Batz said that the return to traditional cloth and paper bags are bringing back memories from when she was a little girl. Another resident said that the mayor’s initiative is a real opportunity for the town to save its lake. “We always invoke the thought of revolution,” Mayor Mendez said, “The revolution is not about weapons. It is to make structural changes in each of our lives to create change.”

Lake Atitlán is a major tourist attraction for the town.

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While the town is more than 90 percent made up of indigenous Tz’utujil Mayans, there is a growing expatriate community of Americans and Europeans. That may be because Lake Atitlán is a major source of revenue for the town, drawing in hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world each year. The lake rests at 9,905 feet in elevation and sits beneath Volcan San Pedro. Tourists enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and snorkeling in the lake, which was becoming increasingly littered with trash. The community not only saved its economy, but it saved an entire body of water from dying.

Residents volunteered their time to take canoes out to the lake, and collect trash.

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Collectively, they would remove nearly 700 pounds of trash from the lake, each day. It was a last resort after protesters demanded the government clean up the lake. In July 2015, #AtitlánSano went viral on social media, but the government did nothing. The indigenous communities had to take it upon themselves to save the lake, which was experiencing explosive blooms of cyanobacteria, making the lake water toxic for human consumption. 

Atitlán has become the center of debate in Guatemala’s growing demand for water rights and an end to environmental racism.

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As massive international farms begin to operate in the country, rivers have been diverted, and waste management has not prioritized for indigenous communities.

“If this lake was in [the mainly white department of] Zacapa, we would have a lot of money, it would be privatized and the government would pay much more attention,” expert Juan Skinner told Truthout. “But because the lake basin is in an Indigenous stronghold, it suffers from the same exclusion that all Indigenous lands suffer from within the country. This is a tourist mecca, an incredible natural wonder, it is still abandoned and excluded because the majority is Indigenous. Because this is a racist country.”

San Pedro residents have become a shining example of the organizing strength of indigenous communities, in the face of a government that continues to divert funds to white communities over indigenous communities.

READ: The United Nations Gave Costa Rica The Highest Award Possible For Their Work Saving The Environment

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