Welcome news on plastics from Mexico City, and its wider implications

Plastic fork

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.

Mexico City … introduced a ban on single-use plastics following a year-long preparation.

Lawmakers passed the ban on plastic bags, utensils and other disposable plastic items in 2019, aiming to reduce non-biodegradable plastics and hoping to turn Mexico’s capital into a more sustainable city.

The new law took effect last year. The city of 9 million people, one of the world’s largest, has spent the past year adjusting to the changes.

In a statement, city authorities declared that “the commercialization, distribution and delivery of single-use plastic products is prohibited” as of January 1…

Mexico City authorities have indicated that during the first months of the measure no fines will be imposed and that they will first focus on informing citizens. [DW]

Given the size of Mexico City, this is notable good news in its own right. But it’s also potentially part of an important leverage effect. As such bans are introduced in more places, it becomes more and more attractive for national and international firms to change their business practices so that they avoid single use plastic everywhere. There’s a point at which it becomes just easier to act as if everywhere has such a ban. Moreover, the more widespread such bans are, the more effort that goes into single-use plastic alternatives and the cheaper, better and more available they become.

It’s a pattern seen repeatedly with other shifts, such as to recycled paper, renewable energy and electric cars. What regulation starts, commerce and markets then end up completing. Tipping points are crucial to go from small scale activity to global impact. Which is why so much smart environmental campaigning is over how to change the rules under which they operate, so that they end up operating as assistants rather than obstacles.

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