Wave of plastic bag bans expands across Americas in 2020

A wave of bans on plastic bags, and sometimes on plastic straws, has greatly expanded in 2020 when legislation will slash millions of dollars worth of resin sold and dent industry employment.

Photo courtesy of CParisienne/Pixabay

In Mexico, where a plastic bag ban went into effect in 2020, producers have warned thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity would be lost. A similar ban also goes into effect in 2020 in all of the state of New York.

Producers across the region have reacted to such initiatives with proposals to support long-term recycling programs, or arguing that alternatives to plastics would carry bigger environmental costs.

Plastic resin producers in the Americas are concentrated in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United States. Latin American and Caribbean markets are the biggest in population.

Bans imposed in Mexico City, Monterrey

Giveaway plastic bags ban in Mexico City, as well as the second-biggest Mexican city Monterrey, went into effect in 2020, with a May deadline.

The legislation aims to curb down on those plastics under the threat of heavy fines or even closing down establishments. Garbage bags must have at least 50% recycled material.

Aldimir Torres, president of the Mexico City-based National Association of Plastic Industries, said during a December press conference that the new bans threaten 23,000 related Mexican jobs.

“There are $500 million annually in contribution, commerce and production (lost) and there are 500,000 tonnes annually that will no longer be produced,” he said, according to an association press release in December.

Some big retailers in Mexico, like the Mexican Walmart-owned chains, will temporarily freely offer reusable bags to their customers as they adapt to the change.

On Dec. 2019 Mexican plastic producers signed the National Accord for the New Plastic Economy with the Mexican Senate to promote recycling.

New York City sees ban in 2020

On March 1, 2020 a new bag waste reduction law will be effective in all of New York State where over 23 billion plastic bags are used annually, according to the state’s environment authority.

Consumers will only be allowed to use reusable bags. Some stores will collect bags and other film such as bread bags and plastic wraps to help recycling. Produce and pharmacy bags are exempted.

According to the U.S. National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which seeks to ease information exchanges among legislatures, as of early 2020 eight states have taken action to ban single-use plastics.

New York is the third state with a ban. In 2014 California was first with a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. Hawaii bans non-biodegradable plastic and paper bags with less than 40% recycled material.

In 2019 state lawmakers introduced at least 95 bills related to plastic bags. Most ban or place a fee on plastic bags while others try to improve recycling, according to the NCSL.

At the state level not just New York but also Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Oregon and Vermont enacted some plastic bags legislation in 2019. Vermont in addition restricted straws and polystyrene containers.

U.S. cities with plastic bag bans in place include Boston, Chicago and Seattle. San Francisco was first to ban plastic bags in April 2007.

Latin America, home to 642 million, cuts down on plastic

In 2020 all retailers in Chile, down to the smallest stores which had enjoyed a grace period, will have to comply with a national plastic bag ban approved two years earlier.

Colombia wants to cut by 2020 its plastic bag consumption by 80%, compared with before national anti-bag legislation became effective in 2016. Colombia wants to eliminate plastic bags by 2025.

Colombian legislators approved the ban in April 2016 and imposed taxes on plastic bags with annual increments until a maximum starting in 2020.

The legislation effectively cut down Colombian plastic bag consumption by 35% within the first two years, officials said in 2018.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, where plastic straws became prohibited in 2019, all hydrocarbon-based bags were banned in 2015. Many Sao Paulo retailers have since switched to plant-based bags.

The country’s biggest petrochemical producer, Brazil-based Braskem, has a 200,000-tonnes annual capacity “green” polyethylene plant, which polymerizes sugar cane-based ethylene.

Authorities in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, banned in January 2017 the distribution of bags in supermarkets. Some other Argentine cities had banned use of plastic bags even earlier.

In 2018 Uruguay banned production and commercialization of all single-use plastic bags. Peru will ban single-use plastics in 2021, according to legislation unanimously approved in Congress in 2018.

Haiti has had a ban in place against plastic bags since 2012.

Bans on “harmful” plastics coming to Canada

Canada plans to ban “harmful” single-use plastics as early as 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on June 2019.

In that month, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the country’s Chemistry Industry Association jointly asked their government as a reaction after that announcement “to consider impacts throughout the lifecycle of plastic waste.”

Canadian producers in 2018 founded the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has pledged over C$1.5 billion to help remedy plastic pollution. Producers have also committed to either re-use, recycle or recover all plastics packaging by 2040.

In the U.S., the American Chemistry Council plastic division announced in May 2018 a goal to recycle or recover all plastic packaging used across the United States, also with a 20-year outlook.

Other businesses that are heavy plastic consumers, like the soft-drinks industry, have also announced initiatives.

Producers agree that plastic pollution is a major threat to oceans. However, plastics could be less harmful than alternatives and more analysis may be needed, they have said.

According to a study by published by the American Chemistry Council, the environmental cost of using plastics would be four times less than what it would be with alternative materials, when including environment considerations like water consumption and air emissions.

By Renzo Pipoli