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Debate over biodegradable additives vs. recycling boils over in Mexico

By: Stephen Downer

April 25, 2013

MEXICO CITY — A sometimes acrimonious relationship between the biodegrading and recycling lobbies in Mexico has boiled over into a bitter public war of words, in an open letter emailed to plastics industry executives.

The letter's publisher, consultant Eduardo de la Tijera Coeto, wrote on April 9 that he was "tired of receiving invitations" to meet with suppliers of biodegrading additives who wanted to demonstrate to him what he called the "undemonstrable."

Their aim, he said, was to persuade him that it would be beneficial to the plastics industry to add biodegrading substances to resins to "avoid the introduction of regulations, plastics substitution and taxes."

"In days gone by these gentlemen would show legislators bundles of photocopies of studies done in English… to convince them to regulate bags in favor of their additives. Now they are more refined. The antepenultimate [tactic] was that of the representative of an oxy-biodegradable material who described as compostable the bags containing his [company's] additives in a [failed] attempt to influence an environmental norm in Mexico City."

"What's difficult for me to understand," added De la Tijera, "is that friends of mine, or at least people I consider friends, and I don't know whether they'll still consider me their friend after they've read this Letter to the Industrialist, continue to mislead plastic processors and users with 'green' promises that they never keep."

"I hope the reason for this is ... that they fervently believe in degradation and there's nothing that can convince them otherwise," he said.

De la Tijera, president and CEO of Grupo Texne in Mexico City, said at the top of the letter that he had replied to the most recent invitation jocularly. But Germán Suárez Villamil, president of Grupo Plásticos Nova SA de CV, of Mexico City, the exclusive distributor of Albuquerque-based Bio-Tec Environmental LLC's EcoPure additives in Mexico, did not see the funny side.

"It's very easy for Señor De la Tijera to insult and destroy, but technology is advancing and our group of companies has no interest in seeing a law that would oblige anybody to use x or z additive," he wrote in response.

"Being in favor of sustainability and ecologically minded, being responsible with regard to one's surroundings is a civic duty and does not force the hand of anybody, whether you're convinced about it or not.

"We have never been involved in matters mentioned by you with politicians or associations, seeking their favors. Neither are we interested in your comment, which is barely credible among people in the industry who know you.

"You use language to confuse and to protect your personal interests. You have no right to distort data or to disparage specialists and doctors in science and technology. Who do you think you are?

"The great plastics industry does not deserve this. We the industrialists and company directors who have created jobs and processed millions of kilos [of resins] know what this means. You should respect every industrialist and, I repeat, the plastics industry is much more than a single type of packaging…

"I repeat that I'm not interested in your characterizations or ideas. Be professional and not a mercenary."

Jaime Cámara Creixell, managing director of Petstar SA de CV, of Mexico City, Latin America's largest PET recycler, pointed out in a subsequent letter published by De la Tijera, that Suárez and other distributors should "have the courage to acknowledge the incompatibility between plastic biodegrading and recycling."

He urged companies interested in sustainability and whose products contain biodegrading materials to add a label reading "This product is degradable and therefore is NOT compatible with recycling" to their packaging

By doing this, Cámara wrote, "the very large and very valuable flow of recyclable plastic materials will not be contaminated."

Suárez was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of Mexico's Asociación Nacional de Industrias del Plástico AC (Anipac) in 2012. De la Tijera was Anipac's president for two years, from the spring of 2006.