Mexico City's Legislative Assembly has voted to ban nondegradable plastic bags in all stores in Mexico's capital.
The measure, proposed by a green party called the Partido Verde Ecologista de México, will become law once it has been published in the city's Official Gazette in a maximum of 90 days.
Store owners will then have a year in which to replace polyethylene T-shirt bags and those available in rolls with ones made from degradable materials.
If they don't, they will face up to 36 hours in jail or a maximum fine of 20,000 times the minimum daily wage.
Bag makers and recyclers accuse the city government of failing to manage waste adequately. They argue that recycling is the best way of tackling bag-related ecological problems in urban areas, because in the long run it means less consumption of crude oil and also creates work.
[The legislation] is catastrophic for recycling and the environment, said José Manuel Fernandez, commercial director and partner of Teknopellets SA de CV (formerly RW Plastics SA de CV), which claims to be Mexico's largest recycler of post-consumer and post-industrial low density PE.
It will seriously affect probably every store in the Federal District 200,000 of them and cause chaos, said Alfredo Lavín, manager of Carredana de Empaques SA de CV, one of the country's largest PE bag makers.
Alfredo LÃ³pez Machorro, managing director of Anipac, or Mexico's National Association of Plastics Industries, said there are about 350 plastic bag makers in Mexico.
Guillermo Salas Valdez, Anipac's president, called the law, known as the Ley de Residuos SÃ³lidos, crazy.
Both Salas and Lavín said the legislation lacks technical knowledge. The lawmakers did not even consider the opinion of people with expertise in bags and polymers, Lavín said.
But Salas is optimistic the lawmakers can be persuaded to modify the measures. I don't think they understood the issue, he said. But yesterday we were talking to a senator, Yolanda Alba, and she is in agreement about enriching [the legislation].
Discarded plastic, he said, accounts for 7 percent of all of Mexico City's rubbish, while plastic bags account for just 1 percent.
The plastics industry is not to blame for the plastic bag problem, he said. It's the fault of the authorities, who are incapable of managing waste.
Mexico's recycling industry, he added, provides 20,000 full-time jobs and employs another 100,000 indirectly.
LÃ³pez said the Mexico City metropolitan area, with a population of more than 20 million, consumes about 55 percent of all the plastic used in Mexico.
If the [Federal District] goes ahead with this measure, all the other states will follow, LÃ³pez said.
Referring to Salas, he said: He's been very aggressive [with the legislators] and has told them that they've not been doing their work properly.