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.”

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