MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government is preparing labeling regulations to encourage packaging recycling — three years after a similar effort developed into a dispute between environmentalists and industry.
The new symbol may differ slightly from U.S. and European resin identification codes, but officials said that will not be a problem for companies that export products to Mexico.
``At this stage, we are not sure if the standard will be the European or the United States versions, but a company will have to use one of the two,'' said Francisco Giner de los Rios, director general of environmental regulations at the government's ecology institute, Instituto Nacional de Ecologia of Mexico City.
A committee of industry, government and association representatives formed on May 20 to develop the recycling symbols. The committee includes the national plastics industry group Asociacion Nacional de Industriales de Plastico AC and the PET recycling organization Asociacion para Promover el Reciclado de PET AC, known as Aprepret, both of Mexico City.
The labeling regulations will apply to all forms of packaging, not just plastics.
Giner said it may take as long as a year before the labeling norms are official. Even then, the industry will have a grace period to make any needed investments, such as new molds, he said.
When the legislation is enacted, it mostly will affect smaller Mexican firms that produce for the domestic market, Giner said. Larger firms that export to Europe or the United States already are including acceptable resin identification labels, he said.
One area to be decided is whether the regulations will incorporate the U.S. standard of numbering plastics, and whether to use the English or Spanish abbreviations for resin types, said Aprepret President Santiago Garcia. For example, PS (for polystyrene) is the same in Spanish and English, but the Spanish translation for HDPE (high density polyethylene) is PEAD (for polietileno de alta-densidad).
``It is very important to unify the symbols since Mexico lacks recycling capacity,'' he said. Almost half of the post-consumer PET collected in Mexican products is exported for reprocessing in the United States or China, he said in May 22 by telephone.
Garcia, like Giner, does not foresee problems for the industry from the new regulations. However, the project has a contentious history.
``We made a mistake in 1995,'' Giner said. ``Without having a project, we called in 70-80 organizations, such as plastics and chemical firms and several organizations such as for glass, metal containers and the nongovernmental organizations.''
Discussions began on a national policy on waste, but positions between the large companies and the ecologists became ``terribly polarized,'' he said. It took a long time to cool off the issue, and ``this simple standard got lost in waste in general,'' Giner said.
Proposals included placing a tax on virgin materials to discourage their use — an idea now discarded — and to develop a waste policy, which is still under way but on the back burner.
Meanwhile, the Mexican packaging industry is involved in a World Packaging Organization effort to declare the first Wednesday of June ``Ecological Packaging World Day'' as a way to increase environmental awareness in the packaging industry.