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Mexico City Bans Non-Biodegradable Plastic Shopping Bags

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday August 26th, 2009 | 6 Comments

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Last week non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags were officially banned in Mexico City, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere to ban plastic bags. In March, Mexico City’s local assembly passed a law requiring stores in the world’s 11th largest city to provide biodegradable bags. There is a one-year grace period before authorities will impose sanctions. The grace period gives merchants time to come up with alternatives and for plastic bag producers to convert their factories.

“The challenge as always is how the law is applied,” said Beatriz Bugeda, the head of Citizen Observers of Environmental Vigilance. “You go to the markets and they put every fruit in a plastic bag. You can leave with 20 or 30 bags. More than waiting for penalties, I think the challenge is convincing citizens to change their habits. We have to go back to our grandmothers’ habits.”

Last year, Wal-Mart set the goal of reducing the amount of plastic bags it hands out in its Mexican stores by 50 percent by 2013. Wal-Mart plans to meet its goal by handing out 237 million less bags each year. Wal-Mart subsequently set a goal of reducing the amount of plastic bags it hands out in all its stores by 33 percent by 2013.

“By reducing the number of plastic bags our customers use, increasing the availability and affordability of reusable bags and providing recycling solutions, we think we can eliminate plastic waste equivalent to 9 billion plastic bags per year from our existing stores alone,” said Matt Kistler, senior vice president for sustainability of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Kistler echoed what Bugeda said about changing people’s behavior. “If we can encourage consumers to change their behavior, just one bag at a time, we believe real progress can be made toward our goal of creating zero waste,” he said.

Are biodegradable bags really eco-friendly?

Mexico City’s ban only applies to non-biodegradable plastic bags. The European Recyclers Association warned in June that biodegradable plastic bags “have the potential to do more harm to the environment than good.” A study by the Biodegradable Products Institute found that the breakdown of bags depends on temperature and humidity. The bags break down slower in cold weather, and high humidity stops the process.

It is best if biodegradable bags are composted, and may produce methane if sent to a landfill. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) with a warming potential 23 times greater than carbon dioxide. The Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Assocation warns that biodegradable plastic should not be sent to landfills.


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Categorized: Policy & Government|

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  • Nick Aster

    I think that the definition of “biodegradable” is almost guaranteed to be abused in this case to the point where not much changes. And even if they meet the European standards, I think you’re absolutely right that it might, ironically, cause worse problems!

    I haven’t been to Mexico city in a long time, but when I was there there was an appalling amount of plastic lying around everywhere, but I guess something is better than nothing. At least in this case people get some messaging that taking home 20 bags is a waste, or at least has some stigma attached to it.

    PS – Has Mexico City really dropped to 11th?

  • http://www.gina-mariecheeseman.com Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    Yes, Mexico City has dropped. It really surprised me. I got my information from Infoplease.com.

  • http://www.d2w.net Symphony Environmental UK

    Mexico City has got it right. Banning plastic bags is a really bad idea (see http://www.biodeg.org/Plasticbagbans.htm)

    The answer is to make them degradable (see http://www.biodeg.org)and to re-use them time and time again instead of buying an expensive cloth bag.

    We have a Distributor in Mexico who is already supplying d2w Controlled-life Plastic to Bimbo, the largest bakery group in Latin America. We look forward to helping Mexico City to stop the accumulation of plastic waste in their environment.

  • http://www.biodegradableplasticbags.org/ Biodegradble Plastic Bags

    More cities in the US should go the way Mexico went. I'm not sure if the Mexicans are aware of all the greenwash going on and the need to discern between degradable and actual compostable bags.

  • http://www.biodegradableplasticbags.org/ Biodegradble Plastic Bags

    More cities in the US should go the way Mexico went. I'm not sure if the Mexicans are aware of all the greenwash going on and the need to discern between degradable and actual compostable bags.

  • Collins Pt.

    Biodegradable plastic and packaging is a modern necessity for our ever-endangered environment.
    Now PLA has been used to line the indoors of Paper Cups in place of the oil based lining additional usually used, create Plastic Cups, Plates, Carrier Bags, Food Packaging and even Nappies.
    Eco Pure is our proprietary blend of organic materials that does not modify the base resin to which it is added.

    Thanks a lot for your information