In the space of a couple of years, Mexico's largely pro-recycling plastics industry has outwitted bag-ban proponents in the Mexican capital and is taking the fight to the provinces and South America.
“Mexico is winning the battle against ‘bagophobes' and the biodegradable lobby,” Eduardo de la Tijera, a consultant and former president of Mexican plastics industry association Anipac, told Plastics News on Aug. 3.
“It's a victory for common sense and for those who know it's better to recycle than to biodegrade,” said Juan Antonio Hernández, president of Industriales de Bolsas Plásticas de México AC (Inboplast), a group of 40 companies that make 60 percent of the plastic bags produced in Mexico.
In March 2009, Mexico City's 66-member Legislative Assembly amended its solid waste law, deeming it illegal after Aug. 18, 2010, for all commercial outlets in the capital to give away plastic bags that were not biodegradable
Heavy fines and even jail time for transgressors were introduced, although they have never been applied, as Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard appeared unimpressed by the legislation.
Lobbyists, including De la Tijera and Hernández, plus representatives from retailers association Antad, kept pressuring not only the Legislature but the capital's environment minister, Martha Teresa Delgado Peralta.
Speculation was rife Delgado was leaning toward recycling to solve the city's worsening garbage-disposal problem. In late July, she published a list of norms for the industry in the capital's Official Gazette. It favors recycling over the use of biodegradable processes.
“I'm very pleased because everything we proposed was accepted,” said De la Tijera, a co-owner of Mexico City-based Grupo Texne. “I was in charge of writing down the proposals and 99 percent of what I wrote is in the norms.”
For example, he said, oxy-biodegradable and biodegradable bag makers will have to prove the degrading properties of their additives at Mexican, rather than foreign, laboratories.
At least 10 percent of the content of plastic bags distributed to shoppers in the capital must be recycled material, a percentage that already is standard within the Mexican plastic bag industry, according to De la Tijera.
Morelia-based Hernández said Inboplast's partners have raised the percentage of recycled material in their bags from 18 to 25 percent in just six months. Their target is 40 percent.
Inboplast, which has annual sales of $93 million and employs 10,000, according to Hernández, put a $2.1 million recycling plant in the municipality of Arandas, in the western state of Jalisco, on stream in January.
The norms, which also oblige store owners to promote garbage separation, will be applicable from next July.
As for the bag-ban legislation, “it's completely dead and there's no chance that it will be revived, despite the resistance of some legislators,” De la Tijera said.
He described it as a victory for Inboplast and Antad (Asociación Nacional de Tiendas de Autoservicio y Departamentales AC).
“Anipac merely aligned with the proposal that Inboplast and Antad put to the ministry. The norms focus first and foremost on sustainable production and consumption.”
However, Hernández is still worried that “politicians and some ecologists don't understand the process of transforming plastics and are taken in by the romantic and false claims made about biodegradable additives. … You can't make policy from behind a desk.”
De la Tijera believes many state and municipal governments that often follow the capital's lead on legislation will now change their anti-recycling attitudes.
“Inboplast has already spoken to legislators in at least half a dozen states about focusing on sustainable production instead of bans and biodegradable bags.
“Mexico is winning the battle against ‘bagophobes' and the biodegradable lobby, as opposed to what is happening in the United States and South America. We can defeat bans.”
He said that across the region, “governments are following what's happening in Mexico very closely.”