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Plastic Waste in Mexico City

Hello, everyone. This is Leti, writing my first blog for CICLO all the way from Mexico City. Today, I would like to introduce the topic of Mexico’s familiar plastic waste problem.

Business as usual: A familiar plastic waste problem

Every day, 13 million tons of garbage is produced in Mexico, more than a kilo per person, of which 48% come from households, 49% from restaurants and eating establishments and 3% from laboratories and hospitals.

Why is so much garbage generated in Mexico? The initial problem is due to the increased used of plastic bags and bottles for anything and everything. There is not a well-established recycling system which allows people to effectively and efficiently separate their garbage. Only 3.3% of the total waste produced in Mexico is recycled. In turn, plastic waste is instead left behind carelessly in the streets like seen down below after weekly street markets close.

In contrast to other countries, Mexico does not charge for plastic bags at supermarkets or stores resulting in their overwhelming use for everything and anything (including serving a delicious pineapple smoothie from your local street market). It is very common seeing people in supermarkets and small street markets use plastic bags for every product. Even things that don’t need to be wrapped are double-wrapped to make sure the bag does not tear.

Moreover, the use of plastic bottles has increased at full speed due to the fast and busy lifestyle Mexicans are living today. Most people buy drinks on-the-go as they are on the way to work or running errands. Currently, there are no options for portable water fountains or refill stations for to-go bottles in Mexico.

What is being done about the plastic issue?

Supermarkets and some stores (mostly of foreign-origin) have began implementing the use of reusable bags called “Bolsa Verde” or “Green Bag”. These reusable bags could be used to replace thousands of plastic bags. As for plastic bottles, the following has been done to reduce their amount:

  • Most plastic bottles are made of PET plastic which can be easily recycled
  • In schools, there has been an increase of contests for students who can pick up plastic bottles from the streets and collect them for recycling giving them in return school supplies or even trip passes
  • Any person can collect and take their bottles to specific sites where they can be sold to be recycled
  • Several events are held where people can donate their bottle caps to companies who then sell those caps and a portion of those sales go to charities which benefit the general public (like charities for cancer)
  • Installation of machines which collect plastic bottles and in return give electronic cash back (this is a relatively new initiative and there is still a very little amount of machines available)
  • Since the popularity of DIY arose, many people have begun to come up with new and interesting ideas to reuse their plastic at home such as using plastic PET bottles as pots for their garden and more!

The major problem is the high quantity of waste generated in Mexico is not correctly separated, collected and recycled. This is why recently more laws and initiatives have begun to be implemented in order to raise awareness and civil responsibility to all Mexicans:

  • Decades earlier, people would build altars for Catholic saints in the streets. If this was done, then most people would stop their throwing away their trash in the areas where the saints where placed out of respect. In some places around Mexico, this method is still being used in order to stop people from dumping trash in the streets.
  • There has been an increase in the amount, areas available and times garbage trucks come to collect garbage.
  • Flyers and brochures are sent to Mexican citizens in order to formally educate them about the proper ways of separating and collecting different types of waste. Trash that is not properly separated does not get picked up by trash collectors.
  • Increased education on how different types of waste should be separated, collected and recycled and how this directly impacts our natural environment.

Do these methods work?

The previous Mexican generation never really received a proper education about our impact to the environment. On the other hand, current and future Mexican generations have a much higher awareness of the environmental issues at hand.

For example, in 2016 a No-Straw campaign began in Mexico for the first time. This campaign was done to bring awareness of the damage plastic straws brought to the ocean wildlife especially sea turtles. Thousands of sea turtles in Mexico were found dead due to the consumption of plastic bags or having plastic straws stuck up their nose. Restaurants began to stop offering plastic straws to their customers and pamphlets were handed out to talk about this problem. Most Mexicans responded positively to this campaign and currently the use of plastic straws around the country have decreased dramatically.

So my final words for my readers are:

There is a way to create positive changes for our planet (even an act as small as not using plastic straws can bring by a huge impact). However, this is an action that must be done with the strength and will of all of us together.

Thanks for reading. See you next time!

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