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Every minute, 500,000 million bags are used worldwide and approximately another million containers of soft drinks are sold. Most of this material will end up in the oceans, turning into garbage containers, with more than 140 million tons of plastic fragments floating with the sound of the currents. In Mexico, according to figures from its own government, about 44.6 million tons of urban waste is generated, seven of which are plastics that end up in the trash, in the best cases, or contaminate the ecosystem.
“Promoting the reuse of these materials may improve its impact on ecosystems, but it obscures a reality: an almost ridiculous fraction of the plastics we consume are recycled: 8% of the total.” Even less than,” says Ricardo Cepeda-Marquez, technical director in charge of the C40 Climate Leadership Waste and Water Program. This is also confirmed by the most recent figures from the OECD, according to which less than 10% of plastic waste is successfully recycled worldwide. The rest falls into nature and harms our health.
“If currently more than 90% of plastics produced nationally are not recycled, we cannot expect a solution to this practice,” agrees Ornella Garelli, responsible consumption and climate change expert at Greenpeace Mexico. Through a study published in 2019, this association identified that only 6.1% of all recoverable waste in Mexico was recycled: cans, cardboard, paper and plastic.
The time it takes for the latter to degrade “can vary from 450 years to eternity, in many cases it will never disappear”, say C40 experts. As he details: “More than 40% of low-density plastic materials are used only once and thrown away.” Which means that, at this rate, nearly all seabird species on the planet will have eaten plastic by 2050, as predicted in a 2015 study by researchers at the University of California.
“That’s why the most viable solution against plastic pollution is recycling and reusing materials, while maintaining their value in industry. For a material to remain useful for as long as possible, a bottle can be recycled as part of the circular economy cycle.” form to become a new one again”, says Jaime Torres, director of communications for ECOCE, a non-profit organization and member of ECOCE. Years ago 20 years ago Formed by Food & Beverage sector. “At the organization we believe that the problem is so large that it cannot be assigned to one party in particular. Industry has a share of responsibility and must bet on ecodesign that supports recycling, as well as eliminating unnecessary plastics. reduces, but consumers must do our part”, defends Torres.
However, recycling is not the way to go for Garelli. “Because it does not change the business model. The only way to end the pollution of places is to reduce the production of plastics, which has not stopped growing,” agrees Cepeda.
The world is producing more and more plastic
According to an OECD report, the use of plastics decreased by 2.2% in 2020 due to the slowdown in activity globally, due to the Covid-19 crisis. on the ecosystem.
As indicated by various monitoring studies conducted by Greenpeace In the coastal ecosystems of protected natural areas in the states of Veracruz, Quintana Roo and Baja California, the most common trash that litters the beaches of the Gulf and the Mexican Caribbean, as well as the many unique ecosystems in the country, is concentrated in a single – plastic. Use.. Supermarket bags, Styrofoam containers, glasses and plates, disposable cutlery: account for more than 90% of materials that are not segregated nationally.
“But if we differentiate between the different plastics present, the percentages are very different,” explains Torres. In Mexico, more than 50% of polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET and widely used in the beverage and textile industries, 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 EU average” , ECOCE spokesperson highlighted.
According to a report by this business association, if in 2010 this sector managed to recover 8,000 tonnes of plastic, today it has reached 480,000. “Recycling has increased by 200% in 10 years.” “A very good piece of information”, Torres qualifies.
“However, the production of PET is so high that we find it in ecosystems on a daily basis,” says the Greenpeace activist. For him, “the discourse in favor of recycling has been the right strategy used by large corporations that produce or market plastics to avoid measures that contribute to the elimination of pollution. They are the ones who encourage recycling. And there is proof of it,” he says.
Recycle more or produce less plastic?
Through cleanup programs and waste collection in ecosystems, Greenpeace and other organizations have identified the brands of materials most commonly found. “Nestle and Coca-Cola have been identified for many years as the corporations that contribute most to the problem. Only those who put recycling as their number one strategy for dealing 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-Marquez, “in recent years it has also positioned itself as a vanguard agent in innovative waste management schemes.”
Last year, the capital’s government announced the start of a new plant in Azcapolcapo, a solid waste transfer station and selection plant with a capacity to receive 1,400 tons of waste per day. A construction that began in 2019 and will make the plant the fourth of its kind in the city. And in 2020, Mexico City’s legislative branch reformed the solid waste law, which prohibited the commercialization, distribution and distribution of plastic bags to the consumer unless they are compostable, and which required supermarkets and grocery stores to sell the bags. forced to charge for
Similar initiatives have been taken in other Latin American cities such as Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Quito, Lima or Santiago de Chile, where in recent years local governments have enacted legislation to ban certain types of plastic material.
“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 following the law. The assumption that was the norm was that thicker bags might have more sustainable uses, but they end up in nature anyway”, he confirms.
For PET, there are 30 recycling plants in the country. PetStar is the biggest nationally and internationally. It is located in Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico, and is associated with Coca-Cola. “One of the most polluting companies in the world”, says Garelli, for whom “recycling, on the other hand, is not an innocuous process, but a process that has an environmental impact. 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 many scientific studies show.”
A statement with which the C40 experts agree. In the words of Cepeda-Marquez, “The plastics industry has used recycling awareness messages to blame the consumer while flooding the market and our urban ecosystem with plastic. Environmental education is very important and reusing is better than nothing.” .. But what is needed is to drastically reduce current production and end this big lie about recycling”, he concluded emphatically.