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The dilemma of Mexico and its seven million tons of plastic garbage


The country recycles just over 6% of this waste, which collapses ecosystems. Experts agree that, in addition to recycling, you also have to produce less

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Every minute, 500,000 million bags are used around the world and almost another million containers of soft drinks are sold.

Most of these materials will end up in the oceans, transformed into garbage containers with more than 140 million tons of plastic fragments floating to the sound of the currents.

In Mexico, according to data from its own Government, about 44.6 million tons of urban waste are produced, of which seven are plastic that end up in the trash, in the best of cases, or contaminating ecosystems.

"Promoting the reuse of these materials can improve the impact it has on ecosystems, but it masks a reality: an almost ridiculous fraction of the plastic we consume is recycled: less than 8% of the total," says Ricardo Cepeda-Márquez, technical director at in charge of the C40 Climate Leadership Waste and Water program.

This is also confirmed by the most recent OECD statistics, according to which less than 10% of plastic waste worldwide is successfully recycled.

The rest collapses in nature and harms our health.

"If currently more than 90% of the plastics produced at the national level are not recycled, we cannot expect this practice to be the solution," agrees Ornela Garelli, a specialist in responsible consumption and climate change at Greenpeace Mexico.

Through a study published in 2019, this association identified that in Mexico only 6.1% of all recoverable waste was recycled: cans, cardboard, paper and plastic.

The time it will take for the latter to degrade can vary "from 450 years to eternity, in many cases it will never disappear," says the C40 expert.

As he details: "more than 40% of low-density plastic material is used only once and thrown away."

Which implies that, at this rate, by 2050 almost all species of seabirds on the planet will eat plastic, as predicted a study carried out in 2015 by researchers at the University of California.

“That is why the most viable solution against plastic pollution is recycling and the use of materials, maintaining their value in the industry.

For a material to remain useful for as long as possible, for a bottle to become a new one again as part of the circular economy cycle”, says Jaime Torres, director of communication and member of ECOCE, a non-profit association created a few years ago. 20 years formed by the food and beverage sector.

“From the organization we believe that the problem is so big that it cannot be delegated exclusively to one side.

The industry has part of the responsibility and must bet on ecodesign that favors recycling, as well as reducing unnecessary plastics, but consumers must do our part”, defends Torres.

For Garelli, however, recycling is not the way.

“Because it doesn't change business models.

"The only way to put an end to the contamination of spaces is to reduce the production of plastic, which has not stopped growing," agrees Cepeda.

The world is producing more and more plastic

According to an OECD report, due to the slowdown in activity globally, the covid-19 crisis led to a 2.2% decrease in the use of plastics in 2020. But, as the economy resumed, its consumption picked up even more, growing its impact on ecosystems.

As indicated by the various monitoring studies that Greenpeace has carried out

In coastal ecosystems of protected natural areas in the States of Veracruz, Quintana Roo and Baja California, the most common garbage that litters the beaches of the Gulf and the Mexican Caribbean, as well as many unique ecosystems in the country, is concentrated in single-use plastics. .

Supermarket bags, Styrofoam containers, glasses and plates, disposable cutlery: part of that more than 90% of materials that are not separated at the national level.

A garbage collector walks among plastic bottles at a dump in Mexico City on August 31, 2021. Future Publishing (Getty Images)

"But if we differentiate between the different plastics that exist, the percentages are very different," explains Torres.

In Mexico, more than 50% of polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PET and widely used in the beverage and textile industry, can be recycled.

“This sector is highly developed in our country: six out of 10 bottles on the market are recovered.

We have the highest index in the American continent, above Brazil, Canada and the United States.

We are at the same level as the European Union average”, highlights the ECOCE spokesperson.

According to a report by this business association, if in 2010 the sector managed to recover 8,000 tons of plastic, today they reach 480,000.

“In 10 years recycling has grown by 200%.

“A very good piece of information”, Torres qualifies.

"However, the production of PET is so high that we continue to find it on a daily basis in ecosystems," says the Greenpeace activist.

For her, “the discourse in favor of recycling has been the perfect strategy used by large corporations that produce or market plastic to avoid taking measures that really contribute to ending pollution.

The companies that produce the most plastic are the ones that most encourage recycling.

And that is evidenced, ”she says.

Recycle more or produce less plastic?

Through cleaning programs and collection of waste in ecosystems, Greenpeace and other organizations have identified the brands of the most found materials.

“Nestlé and Coca Cola have been identified for many years as the corporations that contribute the most to the problem.

Just the ones that put recycling as their number one strategy to deal with the problem”, denounces the activist.

With almost 9 million inhabitants and human settlements that are expanding more every day, Mexico City is the pole that generates the most plastic waste in the country.

But, according to Cepeda-Márquez, "it has also positioned itself as a vanguard agent in innovative waste management plans in recent years."

Last year, the capital's government announced the start-up of a new plant in Azcapolcapo, the Solid Waste Transfer Station and Selection Plant, with the capacity to receive 1,400 tons of waste per day.

A construction that began in 2019 and that will constitute the fourth plant of its kind in the city.

And in 2020, the Legislative Branch of Mexico City reformed the Solid Waste Law, which prohibited the commercialization, distribution and delivery of plastic bags to the consumer, unless they were compostable, and which forced supermarkets and grocery stores to charge for the bags.

Similar initiatives have been carried out in other Latin American cities, such as Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Quito, Lima or Santiago de Chile, where in recent years, local governments have implemented legislation to restrict some type of plastic materials.

“In Mexico, the law was implemented very positively and is being complied with.

The problem is that it is not necessarily formulated in the best way”, says the C40 expert.

“It prohibits the free distribution of single-use plastic bags smaller than a certain thickness.

But, if they charge you, they are complying with the law.

The assumption made by the standard is that thicker bags can have more resistant uses, but end up in nature just the same,” he says.

As for PET, there are up to 30 recycling plants in the country.

The largest of all, nationally and internationally, is PetStar.

It is located in Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico, and is linked to Coca Cola.

“One of the most polluting companies in the world”, says Garelli, for whom “recycling is not, on the other hand, an innocuous procedure, but one that has environmental impacts.

It requires a lot of water and energy, which contributes to the exploitation of natural resources and generates waste.

In many cases, plastics contain toxic substances that are harmful to health, as so many scientific studies point out”.

A statement with which the C40 expert agrees.

In the words of Cepeda-Márquez, “the plastics industry has used recycling awareness messages to transfer blame to the consumer while flooding the market and our urban ecosystem with plastic.

Environmental education is very important and reuse is better than nothing.

But what is urgent is to drastically reduce current production and put an end to this big lie about recycling”, he concludes emphatically.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-01-20

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